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Mary Carillo is a winner as a tennis commentator

Why can't more commentators be like Mary Carillo, who's covering the U.S. Open for the USA Network and CBS? She's the best thing that has happened to women in sports announcing since Phyllis George left CBS. Carillo is stimulating, informed and just irreverent enough to be an enjoyable listen. She has a pipeline to the players, is unafraid to say things that raise a hackle or two among her former comrades (the 30-year-old Carillo teamed with John McEnroe to win the French Open mixed doubles in 1977 before a knee injury ended her playing career) and is hip to the argot of the pro circuit. One reservation: Carillo is much stronger as a commentator than as an interviewer, which is the role CBS often gives her. After her old buddy McEnroe almost drowned in a sea of anger and profanity (page 13), she let him off the hook on his behavior in an interview. Afterward, the off-camera voice of a friend of Carillo's could be heard chiding her for being so "cozy" with him. We agree.

During one of its 11:30 p.m. weekday U.S. Open highlight shows, CBS cut away from live coverage of the first-round upset of Wimbledon champion Pat Cash to broadcast a previously scheduled movie. Skullduggery, at midnight. Italian and West German television showed the match to its conclusion. On Saturday, CBS redeemed itself by carrying McEnroe's five-set victory over Slobodan Zivojinovic well past its scheduled sign-off.

A memorandum of understanding in the NFL's new TV contract requires—as the league interprets it, anyway—the three major networks and ESPN to carry NFL games regardless of who the players are. In other words, if, in the event of a strike, the league fields teams of no-name players, the show would have to go on, and the telecasters couldn't substitute CFL games, small-college playoff games or movies, as they did during the 1982 strike. There's one hitch: The networks and ESPN would get financial relief if ratings didn't measure up to expectations.

NBC's coverage of the World Track and Field Championships, a dry run for the '88 Summer Olympics, was disastrous one day, distinguished the next.

Pluses: NBC focused on the events and didn't bother with scene-setting pieces at some Roman pasta factory.... Charlie Jones was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and unerring in his calls of every race.... Bud Greenspan's historical footage lent perspective and sensitivity to the competition.... The network engaged in refreshingly little American flag-waving.

Minuses: Faulty camerawork loused up coverage of the 10,000-meter run by isolating the leader at a time when two other contenders were starting their kicks a lap too soon, effectively eliminating whatever chances they had of winning.... Until NBC got its act together on the third day, the satellite repeatedly went dark or the audio was out of sync with the video.... Dick En-berg's David Letterman routines on the late-night show were nothing short of horrendous. The producers thought they had to pay lip service in some way to Letterman, who was preempted, but Enberg-the-comedian came across as forced and dim. He worried on the air that the routines might spell the end of his career. They came close.

Before Monday Night Football's sports-news halftime show can be taken seriously, ABC will have to solve its rapidly growing Frank Gifford problem. Gifford is incapable of asking a bold or incisive question, yet ABC insists on trotting him out for the halftime Q and A simply because he's the designated host of the broadcast. Gifford's cream-puff questioning of NFL labor negotiator Jack Donlan on Aug. 31 was an embarrassment, and he seemed ill at ease sharing the question-and-answer time with partner Al Michaels. Viewers would be better served if at halftime Gifford went off to get a bratwurst.

The last four backup games NBC has shown on the Game of the Week have been Reds at Cubs, Angels at Orioles, Dodgers at Phillies and Rangers at Red Sox. The Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays might as well be playing in Tokyo. NBC often gets stuck with unimportant games at this time of year because its schedule is set the previous November. Why? Because NBC has an exclusivity rule, which prohibits teams from televising games locally in competition with the Game of the Week. Teams need to know long in advance whether their Saturday games are going to be chosen by NBC. In most cases, a club whose Saturday game isn't selected by the network will play it at night. Something has got to be done to provide more flexibility.



Carillo, a former player, speaks the language of the pro circuit.