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UP FRONT: TELEVISION | TOUR TALK

Opinionated, just like Cosell

July 13, 2006|Scott Collins;Lynn Smith

A look at some of the highlights as the TV industry unveils its upcoming shows to the entertainment press at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena:

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Is Tony Kornheiser the next Howard Cosell? His colleagues on ESPN's new "Monday Night Football" seem to think so.

The opinionated and abrasive Washington Post sports columnist and radio host will do color commentary alongside play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico and analyst Joe Theismann for the sports cable network, which is taking over the "MNF" franchise this fall after its 36 colorful years on sister broadcaster ABC.

The danger is that Kornheiser might end up like comic Dennis Miller, who spent a brief, fairly disastrous tenure as color commentator in the "MNF" booth dispensing obscure cultural references that left many viewers scratching their heads. But clearly ESPN execs hope the columnist will instead channel the late Cosell, loved and hated by millions during his "MNF" tenure in the 1970s and early '80s. "I think Tony has a chance to be more like Howard than Dennis," Theismann told reporters Wednesday, adding: "Will Tony be over-the-top at times? Sure."

Whether Kornheiser will match Cosell's unique brand of charm remains to be seen; Cosell, after all, sparked national outrage in 1983 by exclaiming of Alvin Garrett, a black player: "Look at that little monkey run!" But Kornheiser has his own quirk: He's afraid of flying, so much so that he did not show up in Pasadena. When the new announcing team met with team owners recently, Kornheiser made a 21-hour train trip from Washington to Orlando. So how will he get to those away games?

"It won't be easy for him," Theismann said, "but he'll do it."

Scott Collins

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Koppel assails network news

Former ABC newsman Ted Koppel thinks TV networks' foreign coverage stinks -- and that it's actually gotten worse since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

One day after a series of deadly explosions ripped through commuter trains in Mumbai, India, Koppel noted the paucity of American TV correspondents based in that country, "the world's largest democracy," he told reporters Wednesday. Koppel, whose "Ted Koppel Reports" premieres Sept. 10 on the Discovery Channel, said the common assumption following 9/11 was that newsgathering outlets would beef up foreign coverage. "That, I'm afraid, has not been the case," he said via satellite from Guantanamo Bay, where he's reporting.

He attacked network news divisions for covering important foreign stories by "parachuting in" high-priced anchors. "What, we don't have are young, aggressive correspondents who are willing to spend years in an area" learning the culture and developing contacts, he said. "This is not only a travesty. It's something we're going to be paying for for years to come."

Scott Collins

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HDNet: Rather will be Rather

Former CBS anchor Dan Rather and entrepreneur Mark Cuban -- polite, patting each other on the back and telling silly sports jokes -- came to the press tour Tuesday to assure all that Rather will have "total, complete, unadulterated editorial control" of "Dan Rather Reports" on Cuban's HDNet, scheduled to start in October.

Rather will hire his own staff, produce his own hourlong show, ask the questions he wants to ask and take all the heat -- just as he says he likes it:

"The chain of command begins and ends with me."

Rather, 74, said he would not be shy about raiding CBS News to build his own staff but declined to say whether colleague Mary Mapes would be joining him. (Mapes, a producer on "60 Minutes Wednesday," was involved in the debacle involving questionable documents that Rather used as the basis for a story on President Bush's military service.)

Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner who co-founded the high-definition channel HDNet, acknowledged he had received e-mails from "everyone who thinks Dan Rather is biased."

But, he added, "The work will speak for itself. I have complete confidence in his work. He's going to do his thing and do the best he can.... If Dan's happy, I'm happy."

-- Lynn Smith

Embracing church and state

On one side of the ballroom, two Capitol Hill staffers, hands on hips, struck a glamour shot for a photographer near a giant prop -- a reproduction of the Declaration of Independence. Just across the way, another photographer was shooting the pierced and tattooed Christian minister Jay Bakker posed in a faux pew.

Church and state got equal Hollywood treatment Tuesday from the Sundance Channel. "The Hill," a six-part series -- more "verite" than documentary, according to executives -- about the young, squabbling staff of U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), will premiere Aug. 23. "One Punk Under God," another six-part series, airs in December and follows the struggling Revolution Church, founded by the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

Why would Wexler agree to expose himself and his staff this way?

Partly because Wexler was allowed to view the final cut.

Also, said Wexler, who flew in from Washington, D.C., for the panel, "The House of Representatives is arguably the most open institution of government in the world, but to many people the workings of Congress are largely a mystery."

Lynn Smith

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Final days of a gonzo journalist

Nick Nolte, a hat all but hiding his lived-in face, choked up on his own words Monday as he recited from memory the suicide note of friend and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson -- the subject of an upcoming Starz documentary that Nolte will narrate.

" 'No more walking, no more swimming, no more fun. Sixty-seven. That's 17 years past 50, 17 more than I wanted or needed.

" 'I'm always grumpy, all the time. No fun for anybody. Relax. This won't hurt much.' "

"Boom. Shot himself. It was a powerful note. It read like a poem," the actor said.

-- Lynn Smith

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