CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV combined to average a 5.8 fast-national rating and 8.9 million viewers during the first week of NCAA Tournament games, marking the highest-rated first week in 15 years and the most-viewed first week in 20 years. Those figures were also up 7% and 9%, respectively, from last year’s opening week of coverage. Coverage on Sunday averaged a 7.1 rating and 11.1 million viewers across the four nets, marking the best rating for an opening Sunday in 13 years and best viewership in 15 years (CBS/Turner). MEDIA LIFE MAGAZINE's Toni Fitzgerald wrote some of the audience gains are "no doubt due to the growing awareness of cable coverage of the first round." With all games available, viewers "might notice the score of a tight game when they check the game results online, then snap on their TVs to catch coverage that wasn't available just a few years ago." The broadcast competition "certainly isn't what it used to be." Thursday shows like ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and Fox' "American Idol" "aren't as strong as they were in past years, and aren't drawing viewers away from March Madness as they once did" (MEDIALIFEMAGAZINE.com, 3/25).
TALKING HEADS THAT STOP MAKING SENSE: In N.Y., Bob Raissman asks, "Anyone else officially sick of Charles Barkley?" It is "enough already." But this is "not all Sir Charles' fault." CBS and Turner are "shoving Barkley down our collective throats," and have left him "overexposed." Barkley has been "uneven, inconsistent and repetitive" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/26). SI.com's Richard Deitsch writes the production on Sunday for Florida Gulf Coast's win over San Diego State on TBS "was terrific," but what "wasn't great was analyst Reggie Miller talking incessantly throughout the entire game." The three-person booth in basketball "is cluttered enough without a filibuster from one of the announcers." Miller needs to "significantly ease off the gas pedal for the round of 16 games" (SI.com, 3/26).
Former FS Detroit Red Wings broadcaster Larry Murphy said of his firing by the RSN last week, "I guess I didn't see it coming -- I had no clue. I just got the call and was told, 'We are not going to use you.' I thought I was doing my job and doing it well." In Detroit, Mike Brudenell noted Murphy "began working" for the net in '03. He said that he was "informed of the decision by" FS Detroit Senior VP & GM Greg Hammaren. Murphy said that he was "told by Hammaren that he was let go because of ratings." Murphy: "That's the reason I was given. He said he wanted to make changes. I was shocked, and all I could say was, 'Yes ... yes.' I just didn't know what to think." FS Detroit over the weekend issued a statement that read in part, "We wanted our primary team of Mickey Redmond and Ken Daniels to call the remaining games as the Red Wings make a push for the playoffs. We thought it was only fair to let Larry know as soon as possible that he would not be scheduled for any more assignments." However, Murphy said that he had "not heard directly from anyone at the Red Wings about his firing" (FREEP.com, 3/25). Murphy said that he was "let go on March 12, the day before he was scheduled to work as a studio analyst." He added that he also was "scheduled to work in the broadcast booth for this current four-game West Coast trip, which he usually does in place of Mickey Redmond, whose travel has been limited for years" (MLIVE.com, 3/24).
ESPN yesterday formally announced that it has reached an agreement on a multiyear contract extension with Rick Reilly, who will continue to write his "Life of Reilly" columns for ESPN.com and contribute TV essays through on-site coverage of "MNF" and other events. For each "MNF" game, Reilly will appear in both pre- and postgame segments. He joined the net in '08 after 23 years at SI (ESPN).
GREETINGS, EARTHLING: Will Leitch yesterday announced that he will join the staff of Sports On Earth as a full-time lead writer for the site. Leitch, who has been contributing part-time to the outlet since it launched last fall, also will host a daily podcast and occasionally write for MLB.com and USA Today. He will continue to write for New York magazine, but no longer on a full-time basis (THE DAILY).
NATIONAL PASTIME: In DC, Sarah Kogod noted MLB Network execs have added former MASN reporter Kristina Akra to "their roster of on-air talent this season." Akra will "be making her debut" April 1 on "MLB Now" with Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds. MASN "hasn't announced a replacement" for Akra for its Nationals telecasts (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 3/25).
FOOT PATROL: SI.com's Richard Deitsch writes NBC Sports "made its first splashy hire" for its EPL coverage when it tabbed ESPN UK's Rebecca Lowe for its "studio host role" out of the network's Stamford, Ct.-based broadcast center. Lowe was "seen Stateside for ESPN's coverage" of the '12 UEFA Championships and '11 FIFA Women's World Cup. Prior to joining ESPN, "Lowe worked as a studio host for Setanta Sports and was a longtime contributor to the BBC." She said that she "focused on one or two games a week for ESPN UK but that number will be amped up." She also will be "in a studio fulltime as opposed to pitchside" (SI.com, 3/26).
KING'S GAMBIT: SI.com's Peter King in this week's edition of "Monday Morning Quarterback" wrote of his upcoming football-centric spinoff website: "I'm looking forward to sharing some of the details on the new site sometime this summer. Wish I knew myself; we're in the process of inventing the place right now. My responsibilities will shift some, but not markedly, and I'll share all of that with you when it's set." King wrote his "MMQB" column will "remain intact" (SI.com, 3/25).
BROADCASTING & CABLE's Andrea Morabito conducted a cover-story Q&A with Turner Broadcasting System Chair & CEO Phil Kent, and asked if he planned on renewing soon with the NBA because of rising sports costs. Kent said, "That timing will be determined by the NBA. We have a relationship with the NBA that's over a quarter of a century now. We're partners with them not only in television, but we manage the digital business for them. We have a terrific relationship. I have every confidence we're going to continue that relationship. Will it cost more money? I could say fairly absolutely" (BROADCASTING & CABLE, 3/25 issue).
SEEKING MORE DEMOS: NASCAR yesterday announced the Univision show "Arranque de Pasin, La Historia de Ela" will debut April 1 as the first-ever sports-themed original project for the net. The drama was shot at Homestead-Miami Speedway and also is NASCAR's first ever Spanish-language original production. Following the premiere, a new episode will debut each Monday, Wednesday and Friday for five consecutive weeks (NASCAR).
BREAK FREE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote it is "not a commentary on the people on air as much as the policy guiding them, but the NHL Network would be a far more compelling watch if it didn’t act as an arm of the NHL PR office." A few hours "watching the MLB Network should be enough to teach the NHL people what they -- and the audience -- need to know" (N.Y. POST, 3/24).