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While ESPN's "SportsCenter" airs highlights every night, the producers and hosts of the show "are concerned about the effect on their audience -- particularly younger viewers -- of replays showing professional athletes celebrating victories by making throat-slitting gestures or choke signs," according to Leonard Shapiro of the WASHINGTON POST. ESPN's Dan Patrick, during a panel discussion sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates, on whether athletes are becoming more demonstrative to get on "SportsCenter": "We are guilty of showing gratuitous celebration, and I'm sure it leads to high school kids wanting to do it, too. The whole thing of slitting your throat, that's embarrassing, and we shouldn't do that. ... If there's an honest, spontaneous celebration, great." ESPN's Chris Berman: "I hate that. I don't know if that's our problem. If it is, we need to do something about it. To me, that's an NBA thing. It's one of the reasons I don't watch it very much." ESPN Exec Editor John Walsh said that there "is increasing pressure" to include more sports on the show, but that the "obligation [is] to show to a large audience the sports that are most popular. We have people from leagues petitioning us all the time for more coverage. That's one of the big changes in the last five or six years. We give a lot more time now to auto racing and golf because the interest is there" (Leonard Shapiro, WASHINGTON POST, 5/21). MORE ON HIGHLIGHTS: USA TODAY's "In Focus" section examined the culture of sports news networks. FSN Exec Producer John Terenzio: "Hockey fights, car crashes, backboard-shattering dunks -- we show them all and make no bones about it. There's viewer interest, and we're not ashamed of it." ESPN News Dir Vince Doria said that the "top priority in highlights is their relevance" to a game story, "but there's room for interesting video -- and a backboard breaking is interesting video" (USA TODAY, 5/20). In Baltimore, Milton Kent: "So all that talk out of last November's ESPN town meeting on sportsmanship must have been just that -- talk. How else does one explain the judgement of 'SportsCenter' producers to lead yesterday's overnight show with the Orioles-Yankees melee over NBA and NHL playoff highlights and a three-homer performance from St. Louis' Mark McGwire?" (Baltimore SUN, 5/21).
The Canadiens and Canadian junior hockey each "wrapped up significant" TV deals yesterday, but the Maple Leafs' regional TV picture "isn't cleared up yet," according to Lance Hornby of the TORONTO SUN. The Canadiens agreed to a four-year deal with TSN to carry a minimum of 20 games a season, marking the Habs' first appearance on an English language network in midweek since '75-76. CTV Sports Net (CTVSN) and the Canadian Hockey League agreed to a four-year deal to show a minimum of 65 games per season. Hornby reports that both TSN and CTVSN "continue their battle" to control the regional midweek Leafs package." A decision "is said to be about 10 days away" (TORONTO SUN, 5/21). In Montreal, Pat Hickey writes that the Canadiens deal allows TSN "to maintain a presence in the NHL," after being outbid for the national package by CTVSN (GAZETTE, 5/21). CTVSN was expected to announce that it had added the Expos to its program lineup yesterday, but CTV VP Doug Beeforth said that the deal "hasn't been signed yet" (FINANCIAL POST, 5/21).
PERSONALITIES: In Toronto, veteran Canadian announcer Don Chevrier ranked the best hockey "play-callers," and named Fox's Mike Emrick "in a class by himself," with ESPN's Gary Thorne at No. 2 and Rangers play-by-play man Sam Rosen third (William Houston, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 5/21). ...Flyers G Ron Hextall will work as a studio analyst for ESPN2's "NHL 2Night" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 5/21)....A cable outage in parts of Utah cut Insight Cable's service 20 minutes into the Lakers-Jazz Game Two (DESERET NEWS, 5/20). ...CBS Sales President Joe Abruzzese told 1,000 onlookers at yesterday's CBS's fall network sales meeting, "No more Sunday afternoon movies, no more Sunday afternoon figure skating. The AFC, .. is on the rise, and so is CBS." CBS TV President Les Moonves: "The NFL will add male viewers and make us younger." Abruzzese also said CBS is "on target" with ad projections of "breaking even this year," and has $25M in new advertisers for its AFC package (Rudy Martzke, USA TODAY, 5/21)....SportsLine USA shares fell 13% to 26 5/8 on news "that it may have lost the competition for the production contract" for NFL.com (HOLLY. REPORTER, 5/21).
After ABC added "Sports Night," a sitcom starring Robert Guillaume loosely based on ESPN's "SportsCenter" to its fall lineup, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, a former ESPN anchor, said, "I suppose you could do a half-hour entertainment show based on 'SportsCenter.'" While the sitcom "might work," Olbermann said the "problem is the name. There's an awfully short corporate memory over there at ABC. ... Back when I worked at ESPN, we started something called ESPN2, and they made me go and do the flagship show of the new network. Flagship. Flagship like 'Titanic' was a flagship. The show was so bad it was selected as the seventh-worst thing to happen in sports in the year 1993, by Sports Illustrated. ... The name of this abomination? 'Sports Night.' Good luck, boys" (MSNBC, 5/20).