Overnight ratings for yesterday’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament games were down from the comparable first Sunday in ’11, but the tournament remains on pace for its best audience in 18 years. Through Saturday’s coverage, the tournament is averaging a 5.3 fast-national Nielsen rating and 8.0 million viewers across CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, marking the best three-day audience for the event since '94. The figures through Saturday are up 4% and 3%, respectively, compared to a 5.1 rating and 7.8 million viewers last year, and up 15% and 14%, respectively, from ’10 when CBS was the only net airing the tournament. Saturday’s coverage of third-round games earned a 6.1 rating and 9.3 million viewers, marking the highest-rated and most-viewed first Saturday since ’07. The Saturday rating is up 3% from last year while viewership was flat. The four networks also averaged a 5.4 rating and 8.0 million viewers for coverage of the second-round games, marking the most-viewed Thursday/Friday since ‘91 (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand notes although ratings are currently up, the tournament “might be ratings-challenged now with fan favorite/villain Duke gone and no teams from the Pacific or Mountain time zones -- which have about 20% of the U.S. population” (USA TODAY, 3/19).
TALENT REVIEWS: In Denver, Dusty Saunders writes Turner's Charles Barkley “is having a second consecutive championship performance in the CBS-Turner Sports coverage of the men's NCAA Tournament, mixing his straight-on commentary with his unique humor.” Barkley yesterday said that the Univ. of Kentucky “would win the tournament.” When asked “who could beat the overall top-seeded Wildcats, Barkley replied, ‘The Toronto Raptors’” (DENVER POST, 3/19). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick noted Turner's Marv Albert called the Norfolk State-Missouri upset Friday, and at the end of the game he said, “And that’s it!” Albert allowed “the rest to speak for itself.” Mushnick: “Good for him. Good for us. Good for the archives.” But Mushnick noted Barkley “still has two weeks to get one thing right and to say one thing useful” (N.Y. POST, 3/18). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes St. John's coach Steve Lavin “has been stellar as a guest analyst” on CBS's NCAA Tournament coverage. His “strongest point of the weekend was addressing some of the controversial lane-violation calls we've seen in the tournament.” Lavin “correctly pointed out that though the calls weren't popular, they were correct.” Jones writes the “best announcing team” was Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel, who were “assigned to call the NCAA Tournament games from Nashville.” Eagle and Spanarkel “are the best duo calling tournament games.” They are “the Thinking Man's announcers.” Eagle might be “the most underrated broadcaster in sports, and Spanarkel doesn't have an overwhelming personality but an intelligent one.” Jones: “I'll take intellect over outrageous any day” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 3/19). Meanwhile, the N.Y. POST’s Mushnick writes play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan all weekend “was particularly skilled in avoiding facts about Syracuse’s continuing picks-and-rolls toward the netherworld.” Harlan used “distractions," “speed bumps in the road” and Saturday, “significant issues.” Harlan “also can’t speak simple basketball.” Mushnick: “One doesn’t shoot, one ‘hoists.’ One doesn’t ‘make’ three-point shots, [one] ‘authors’ them” (N.Y. POST, 3/19).
FAMILY TIES: USA TODAY’s Hiestand notes CBS’ Clark Kellogg this week “will be in Atlanta for the South Regional," while Ohio Univ., which features Kellogg's son, Nick, will be in St. Louis for the Midwest. CBS Sports Exec Producer & VP/Production Harold Bryant said, "We have no issue with whether or not it's his son's game. As a lead analyst, we just want him on the most marquee games possible." Kellogg’s wireless look-ins “aren’t prompted because CBS had any problem with him calling his son's action.” Hiestand: “Too bad CBS didn’t use Kellogg to cover his son's team, given that family ties can create dramatic TV sports.” When ESPN's Bob Griese covered his son’s football game, who was a quarterback at Michigan, Griese “broke down on-air as Brian's team won the Rose Bowl to seal a share of the 1997 season national title.” And Fox' Darrell Waltrip “teared up as brother Michael won the 2001 Daytona 500” (USA TODAY, 3/19).