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Original Issue


ABC improved at Brookline, but Brent Musburger's ego showed in the NBA finals

ABC's coverage of the U.S. Open was a step above last year's when Jim McKay & Co. fell into a San Francisco fog and lost track of the scores. A number of changes were made this time, including a larger role for cohost Jack Whitaker the removal of the ill-fitted Al Trautwig and the elevation of Terry Jastrow from director to producer. Jack Nicklaus also was a godsend, lending authority to the telecasts after missing the cut.

Jastrow, a former collegiate golfer and something of a Hollywood bon vivant (he is married to actress Anne Archer and has appeared in several movies), still has a problem with some of his troops. Peter Alliss has nothing to contribute other than his British accent. And Bob Rosburg seems to consider most shots impossible and gets overly enthusiastic when players make supposedly miraculous recoveries. Nicklaus shines even more because his ABC colleagues, who don't cover the Tour each week, aren't up on the players.

It might sound like heresy, but ABC ought to consider CBS's approach of having an announcer at each of the finishing holes. There is no way viewers can keep abreast of which hole is being shown when McKay and Whitaker, announcing all the action on the course from No. 18 via a monitor, have difficulty themselves. On balance, though, a cleaner, tighter effort this year by McKay & Co.

During the NBA finals Brent Musburger again proved his mettle as an interviewer, at one point grilling Kansas coach Larry Brown on his credibility in light of his becoming the coach of the San Antonio Spurs. However, through Game 6 of the series, the ever-more-present Musburger had used the words "I," "me," or "my" 46 times—or about once for every minute he was on the air.

NBA postscripts: CBS was outstanding in the truck, presenting consistently insightful graphics and every conceivable replay. Remember the Game 4 shots of Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson kissing, of Isiah pushing Magic and of Magic giving Isiah an elbow to the face?

But CBS wins the Shameless Promo Prize among networks in a walk. It continually intruded on the finals by having Dick Stockton and others deliver extended pitches for such upcoming CBS events as the College World Series, the Westchester Classic and the Detroit Grand Prix. As Warner Wolf would say, "Gimme a break."

The four-month-old TV writers' strike may well bail out NBC on the Seoul Olympics. The network most likely will not need the strike to make a modest profit on the Games, but the walkout is expected to bring in a lot of late money from advertisers who otherwise would have purchased time on new CBS or ABC shows. A $50 million to $75 million profit for NBC is not out of the question if the strike should continue.

ESPN's loss of the NHL to SportsChannel America, a cable distribution service, is a fire alarm for sports fans. The NHL is the first blue-chip league to have its championship series move in part to pay-cable. ESPN is considered "basic" cable. Starting next season, only about 10 million U.S. homes will have access to the NHL; ESPN reaches about 47 million homes. And while virtually all cable viewers received the NHL games on ESPN as part of their basic monthly service, some 20% of SportsChannel's viewers (those within 50 to 75 miles of major cities, where interest in hockey is greatest) will have to pay as much as $12 a month extra for them next season.

The oh-so-proper All England Lawn Tennis Club will not permit NBC to use that famed symbol of American television, the blimp, during Wimbledon. Coordinating producer and director Ted Nathanson argued that blimp shots of Centre Court and the rest of the grounds would be jolly good, but the club thinks the noise of the dirigible might disturb the players.

As of Sunday the bad blood between HBO and Butch Lewis, the promoter for Michael Spinks, was threatening to taint HBO's delayed telecast of the Spinks-Tyson bout. The puerile Lewis was refusing to allow HBO to interview Spinks before or after the June 27 fight and was vowing to bar HBO's microphone from Spinks's corner. Lewis's restrictions, which also apply to the live closed-circuit telecast, stem from HBO's pending $8 million lawsuit against Lewis. HBO alleges that Lewis illegally yanked Spinks from its heavyweight unification tournament so that he could fight Gerry Cooney. Viewers are being ill-served, but then again the world will not end with this Lewis ego caper.



Musburger's NBA stints tended to focus on his favorite character.