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ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Production John Wildhack said that he "became convinced" that Chris Fowler could handle the double duty of "College GameDay" and "Saturday Night Football" after multiple conversations with Fowler and producer Bill Bonnell, according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Wildhack added that he "never felt" like Fowler, who joined the net in July '86, would "leave ESPN at any point during the negotiations." Fowler will "likely travel from GameDay to an alternate game site in about half the weeks of the college football season." Wildhack: "Knowing Chris as I do and knowing his relationship with Kirk [Herbstreit], I made the decision to move forward. All of our conversations were very candid, constructive and collegial. It wasn't like I'm the management guy and he's the play-by-play guy. It was two guys talking about Chris' future and he knew from the get-go I wanted him to stay with the company for a long time." ESPN's next "contractual domino" to address is Rece Davis, a "standout performer whose contract is coming up." Wildhack said, "Rece is a very important and valued contributor to what we do in the college space. I would like to see him remain in that position for years to come. We want him for a long, long time" (SI.com, 3/13).
END OF AN ERA: SPORTS ON EARTH's Leigh Montville wrote "there is nothing wrong" with ESPN's Brent Musburger moving to the SEC Network. The "poobahs always will shift the chess pieces around the board at will, looking for better demographics, better ratings, ultimately leading to higher revenues, but it will take a bit of adjusting for the viewer." But the big games "will not sound as big any more." For more than 40 years, "the Musburger voice has been an important part of important sports moments" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 3/13). In Boston, Chad Finn writes moving Musburger off of "Saturday Night Football" "feels like the end of an era." Musburger "has a knack for capturing the magnitude of a big event, and so it’s disappointing his new assignment does not include calling any playoff games" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/14).
BIG FINISH: VARIETY's Marilyn Stasio wrote audience members come out of the show "rocking the technology." The production features "spectacular projections, sound and lighting effects." Its "scenic showpiece" is "a regulation-size boxing ring that puts the audience ringside for the big fight" and it "looks like it was worth every penny" (VARIETY.com, 3/13). In Chicago, Chris Jones writes there will be "no question in theatergoers' minds as they leave the theater that they have experienced the thrill of a fight." It is "hard to overstate the achievements of this concluding fight, which is the reason 'Rocky' has the aroma of a long-term Broadway survivor" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/14). ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's Thom Geier writes "Rocky" "delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills" (ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, 3/21 issue). NBC N.Y.'s Robert Kahn writes "for whatever its flaws, 'Rocky' the musical wins with a knockout final scene that is, guaranteed, unlike anything you've seen in the theater" (NBCNEWYORK.com, 3/14). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Terry Teachout writes the musical is "very nearly as good" as the first "Rocky" movie on which it is based, "an unpretentious slice of honest entertainment whose rock-’em-sock-’em finale will set the snobbiest of theatergoers to cheering in spite of themselves." The show is "a knockdown hit" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/14). In Philadelphia, Chuck Darrow writes the show "despite a few annoying flaws ... is a rousing, feel-good spectacle obviously designed to push every button a theatergoer wants pushed" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/14).
A FIGHTER & A LOVER: The FINANCIAL TIMES' Brendan Lemon gives the show three stars out of five and writes the "main reason to see this spectacle is the stately Act Two emergence, from the proscenium into the audience, of a boxing ring." What "precedes that coup is ... a well-acted, occasionally dull and sometimes touching story of two wounded souls" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 3/14). USA TODAY's Elysa Gardner gives the show two-and-a-half stars out of four and writes it is "most affecting when things quiet down a little" with Rocky's "less flamboyant efforts as a man looking for love" (USA TODAY, 3/14). In DC, Peter Marks writes the last 15 minutes "are by far the show's best 15 minutes," as "what comes before is not a rush" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/14). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's David Rooney wrote the "dazzling staging of the climactic match trumps forgettable musical numbers." For a show that "on many levels is a miss," that sequence is "a thrilling knockout." If marketed successfully, Rocky "could become for boys and their dads what Wicked is to the girl contingent" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 3/13).
CBS on Saturday will debut a documentary exploring the ’13 NBA Summer League and several players’ aspirations of breaking through to the next level. “Summer Dreams,” a two-hour film narrated by actor Chris Noth, airs at 8:00pm ET following the Mountain West Conference championship game. It looks at a two-week portion of the NBA calendar in July that has gone largely uncovered until now, said Exec Producer Mike Tollin. “This story hasn’t really been told yet, a part of the NBA that hasn’t really gotten much exposure. That’s attractive,” said Tollin, who has worked on various ESPN “30 for 30” films, “Arli$$" and “Coach Carter.” Tollin hatched the idea for the film with CBS Exec VP/Alternative Programming Chris Castallo, who told him the net was “hungry for unscripted storytelling that might appeal to younger and predominately male demographics.” The film showcases two first-round picks in the '13 NBA Draft, Mavericks G Shane Larkin and 76ers G Michael Carter-Williams, along with a pair of other players, Romero Osby and Dwayne Davis, who are trying to break into the league. It also follows referee Lauren Holtkamp as she attempts to become a full-time female official in the NBA, and little-known coach Joel Abelson. “The idea was to come up with a cross-section of characters that would represent the full spectrum of the NBA family,” Tollin said. “The lottery players are going to get guaranteed seven-figure contracts, so there is less at stake for them than a guy who is literally fighting for his livelihood.”
COULD BE ADAPTED INTO A WEEKLY SERIES: The Summer League is split between Las Vegas (22 teams) and Orlando (10 teams), but Tollin and his crew of more than a dozen cameras spent most of their time in Sin City due to the potential for more storylines. He said Las Vegas is the “colorful league, the one that’s really set up for a big audience.” Tollin: “They’ll have 10,000 people on a good day, there’s a lot more activity and stories to uncover.” Depending on the film’s success, Tollin said it could turn into either a weekly series on a to-be-determined channel or an annual project. “There was a general sense that they (the NBA) would love to increase the profile of the league,” Tollin said. “They get it that their players are everything and that’s what attracts fans.” “Summer Dreams” was produced by Raquel Productions in association with Mandalay Sports Media, with Jon Weinbach serving as co-Exec Producer.
The lineup for the '14 Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival was announced on Thursday and the event is headlined by the world premiere of "When The Garden Was Eden." The documentary about the Knicks' championship teams of the '70s is directed by Michael Rapaport. The festival runs from April 16-27 (Tribeca Film Festival). In L.A., Steven Zeitchik noted other events and screenings include "Maradona '86" about the "complicated soccer legend," as well as a conversation between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. Also being show is the documentary "Slaying The Badger" on cyclist Greg LeMond and "Next Goal Wins" about the American Samoa soccer team (LATIMES.com, 3/13).
LEGENDARY STYLE: ESPN Films' "30 for 30 Shorts" series continued with the debut on Wednesday of "Untucked," a documentary directed by actor Danny Pudi of NBC's "Community." The film, which can be viewed on Grantland.com, focuses on the Marquette men's basketball team's uniform during the team's '77 NCAA Championship run (ESPN). TV producer Bill Lawrence said of ESPN's "30 for 30 Shorts" series, "The perception is that these are for sports fans. They are for everyone, and some of the best short documentaries I've ever seen" (ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, 3/21 issue).
In Albany, Pete Dougherty notes Turner's Ernie Johnson next month "will get his first opportunity as host of the Final Four." Johnson said of differences between hosting the Final Four and "Inside the NBA," "One of the things is dealing with different fan bases, dealing with different universities, dealing with rabid fans of these schools, and dealing with kids who aren't pros. It tempers to a degree what you say. You don't want to come down too hard on a kid, an 18-year-old, and you realize that for some of these guys, this will be it." He added, "There's nothing you do during the year that's like that Thursday and Friday. With the four networks, it's non-stop. It's 12 or 13 hours of juggling. You've got a studio in Atlanta, and our studio in New York. And they're deciding, OK, you do the pregame show on TBS, get that game on the air, then turn around and do the halftime show on TruTV for this game, and as soon as that's over, you've got to get ready to do a postgame show on TNT. You are constantly regearing your mind" (Albany TIMES UNION, 3/14).
WINNER WINNER: The CP's Bill Brioux wrote the CBC's Ron MacLean by this time next year "may be seen as the big winner" in Rogers Communications' shakeup of "Hockey Night In Canada." MacLean has been "offered about as sweet an after-deal as just about anybody departing a top job could hope for -- the chance to be a key part of a whole new night of a famous sports franchise." Sunday was integral to Rogers’ plan, as it is "easily TV’s most competitive night." For Rogers President of Broadcasting Scott Moore, a "key component on the new Sunday strategy was MacLean." While George Stromboulopoulos "will be the studio anchor of the new night, MacLean will be the familiar face." Positioning him as the "host of a year-long Hometown Hockey Community Celebration ... plays on MacLean’s already strong connection to viewers across Canada" (CP 3/13).
GOOD CATCH: FS Southwest announced former MLBer Ivan Rodriguez will join the RSN for "Rangers Live" pre- and post-game coverage. Rodriguez will work on several broadcasts, joining former MLBer Mark McLemore and hosts John Rhadigan and Dana Larson on the shows. Rodriguez makes his debut Opening Day, March 31 (FSSW).
RADIO WAVES: The SEATTLE TIMES reported former Boston-based WEEI-FM host Mike Salk "is returning to Seattle" as ESPN Radio 710 Program Dir and host on March 23. Salk left Seattle for Boston last March (SEATTLETIMES.com, 3/13). In Boston, Chad Finn writes WEEI's 2:00-6:00pm ET slot is in "as much flux now as it was a year ago" when former host Glenn Ordway was fired. There is "no obvious choice" to replace Salk. WEEI's Kirk Minihane "would be terrific, but he’s tethered" to the "Dennis & Callahan" show. Dale Arnold "has been filling in, but the back-to-the-future approach probably isn’t" what Brand Manager Kevin Graham "is looking for" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/14).
BACK IN THE FOLD: In St. Louis, Dan Caesar reports Bob Ramsey, who was "ousted from his on-air slot" at WXOS-FM in November, "recently was added to the afternoon drive-time show" at WGNU-AM. Ramsey has "been in the market" since joining KPLR-TV in '85. He has been "added to the mix with Bryan Burwell, Joe Strauss and Brien Rea" in the 3:00-6:00pm CT weekday slot, "in essence giving the program -- which is the best new St. Louis sports talk show in the last year -- a deeper bench and a lineup of high-profile guys with strong opinions" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/14).
ESPN drew a 2.1 rating and 3.5 million viewers for the North Carolina-Duke men’s basketball game last Saturday night, marking the best audience for the matchup since March ’12. That second in-season matchup in ’12 drew a 2.7 rating and 4.2 million viewers on ESPN. That game had drawn under 3 million viewers for each of the last three telecasts (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).DUKE-UNC MEN'S BASKETBALL TV AUDIENCE TRENDDATENETWORKRATINGVIEWERS (000)3/8/14ESPN2.13,4982/20/14ESPN1.52,2853/9/13ESPN1.72,7872/13/13ESPN1.62,3533/3/12ESPN2.74,2472/8/12ESPN2.23,1213/13/11 (ACC Tourney)ESPN1.42,0763/5/11CBS2.74,6112/9/11ESPN1.52,3673/6/10ESPN1.62,4982/10/10ESPN1.42,241
NOTES: Golf Channel drew 441,000 viewers for the third episode of “Big Break Florida” on Monday night, marking the most-viewed premiere episode for any Golf Channel original series. The previous record was 435,000 viewers for the premiere of “The Haney Project” featuring Charles Barkley back in March ’09 (Golf Channel)….FS1 drew 420,000 viewers for the FC Barcelona-Manchester City UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match on Wednesday, marking the most-viewed soccer match on the net since it launched last August. Tuesday’s Bayern Munich-Arsenal match drew 363,000 viewers, marking FS1’s third-best Champions League audience to date. Sandwiched in the middle is the first leg of the FC Barcelona-Manchester City from Feb. 18, which had 395,000 viewers (Fox)….Thunder games were the most-viewed sports telecasts in the Oklahoma City market last week. ABC’s Thunder-Lakers game last Sunday afternoon drew a 13.4 local rating to lead the way. FS Oklahoma drew an 11.0 rating for Thunder-Suns on March 7 drew and a 10.1 rating for 76ers-Thunder on March 4 (NEWSOK.com, 3/12).
The charts below lists final ratings from recent sports telecasts.
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) NASCAR Sprint Cup: Kobalt 400 (Las Vegas)3/9Fox3:00-6:15pm4.57,200 WGC-Cadillac Championship: Final Round3/9NBC3:00-6:00pm2.84,200 NBA: Thunder-Lakers3/9ABC3:52-6:16pm2.23,382 NBA: Heat-Bulls3/9ABC12:56-3:52pm2.23,381 Soccer friendly: Mexico-Nigeria3/5UniMas8:19-10:41pm1.52,947 WGC-Cadillac Championship: Third Round3/8NBC2:00-6:00pm1.92,600 College Basketball: Michigan State-Ohio State3/9CBS4:35-6:45pm1.72,487 College Basketball: Kentucky-Florida3/8CBS12:00-2:21pm1.31,849 College Basketball: UConn-Louisville3/8CBS2:21-4:11pm1.21,772 College Basketball: Arizona-Oregon3/8CBS4:11-6:30pm1.01,515 College Basketball: MVC Championship:
Wichita State-Indiana State3/9CBS2:28-4:35pm1.01,492
College Basketball: Virginia-Maryland3/9CBS12:00-2:28pm1.01,434 "NBA Countdown"3/9ABC12:30-12:56pm0.81,162 Liga MX: Club America-Santos Laguna3/8Univision5:55-8:00pm0.61,102 NHL: Red Wings-Rangers3/9NBC12:00-3:00pm0.71,100 "ESPN Sports Saturday"3/8ABC4:00-6:00pm0.5797 TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) College Basketball: North Carolina-Duke3/8ESPN9:00-11:17pm2.13,498 NBA: Heat-Spurs3/6TNT8:16-10:52pm1.72,630 College Basketball: Indiana-Michigan3/8ESPN6:08-8:17pm1.32,071 NASCAR Nationwide Series: Boyd Gaming 300 (Las Vegas)3/8ESPN24:15-7:00pm1.32,008 "College GameDay"3/8ESPN8:17-9:00pm1.31,953 NBA: Pacers-Rockets3/7ESPN9:34pm-12:12am1.11,784 NBA: Clippers-Lakers3/6TNT10:52pm-1:22am1.21,701 College Basketball: Notre Dame-North Carolina3/3ESPN7:00-9:02pm1.11,610 WGC-Cadillac Championship: Final Round3/9Golf1:00-2:51pm1.01,394 College Basketball: Alabama-Kentucky3/4ESPN9:04-11:00pm0.91,387