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With Jimmy Johnson's supposed "big announcement" on Sunday on whether he will stay in TV or return to coaching next year," Larry Stewart of the L.A. TIMES writes, "Sports television has given new meaning to the term checkbook journalism. ... Fox is in a ratings war with NBC, and the network knows it will win big on Sunday, beating its rival at its own game with a bought-and-paid- for 'exclusive.'" "Fox NFL Sunday" producer Scott Ackerson, on last week's skit in which Johnson wore Eagles and Buccaneers hats: "We were spoofing oursleves" (L.A. TIMES, 12/16). But one NFL GM was not amused: "It stinks. It's totally non- professional. This league is not a circus." In Washington, Leonard Shapiro writes, "Journalistically, Johnson's decision ought to be the lead story in Sunday's pregame show. ... Then again, Fox Sports has never claimed to have anything to do with journalism" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/16). On HBO's "Inside the NFL," Johnson addressed the hype he helped create: "I'm enjoying what I'm doing and if I decide to stay in television, that's what I'll do. ... If I decided to go back into coaching, I'd like to have a team prior to the Super Bowl" (HBO, 12/15). HBO's Nick Buoniconti: "Jimmy's having his cake and eating it, too. He'll get a new deal from Fox for $1 million (up from $650,000). I'm sure HBO ($250,000) will up the ante, too." Fox Sports spokesperson Vince Wladika denied the million dollar figure: "It's not that high" (Rudy Martzke, USA TODAY, 12/16).
KNIGHT-RIDDER's Nelson & Raissman write that a Turner-NBC merger would create a "sports giant" -- with the broadcast and cable rights to the NBA under one roof, as well as NBC properties: the AFC, golf, The Baseball Network and Notre Dame football (MIAMI HERALD, 12/16)....Warren Buffett bought a 4.9% stake in Gannett, causing Gannett stock to immediately jump 8.2%. The move coincided with Gannett's naming of David Mazzarella of the new Editor of USA TODAY (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/16)....Executives at ESPN, ABC and NBC said it is too early to speculate on what will be done if the MLB season opens with replacement players (Mike Jensen, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/16).