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CBS' lead announcers miss marks

Published Oct. 10, 2005

These Winter Olympics are definitely different, mainly because they're on CBS instead of ABC.

Jim McKay, for the first time since 1960, isn't the prime-time host. Baseball commentator Tim McCarver and morning news anchorwoman Paula Zahn are the co-hosts.

In 1960, CBS recruited a professional team of broadcasters. Walter Cronkite, a news correspondent, served as anchor with Chris Schenkel. McKay and Bud Palmer were reporters. The network also hired previous gold-medal winners such as figure skater Dick Button and skier Andrea Mead Lawrence as technical analysts.

McKay later switched to ABC and became an Olympic fixture through the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.

In 1992, CBS has such people as new baseball play-by-play man Sean McDonough on bobsled and luge, auto racing announcer Ken Squier on speed skating and football announcer Verne Lundquist on figure skating.

It is particularly apparent that McCarver and Zahn are not right for the job. They don't have the feel for the Games McKay had. Few broadcasters do. But McCarver and Zahn could at least act like they know what they're talking about. And, folks, try looking more relaxed.

Faced with a six-hour difference between France and the East Coast, CBS packaged Monday's events into one long episode, showing McCarver and Zahn at their worst.

First came a feature on the comeback of cross-country skier Bill Koch, who finished 42nd in the competition _ which the network didn't report until the segment was over. Then came Bonnie Blair's gold-medal performance in speed skating. Immediately following was footage from Doyle's Bar in Blair's hometown of Champaign, Ill., followed by a family celebration in an Albertville pub, followed by Blair dedicating the medal to her father in a post-race news conference.

Back in the studio, Zahn and McCarver struggled to capture the moment. Zahn sat looking at the camera. McCarver, trying to add humor instead of supplying information, was not funny.

Don't blame McCarver; he's a baseball announcer hosting an international sporting event. And Zahn is on loan from the news department. Besides, CBS' 18.7 overnight rating in 25 markets Wednesday night from 8-11 p.m. was the network's second-highest Wednesday night of the season, behind Game 4 of the World Series (21.7). It bested the network's Wednesday night average by 53 percent, or 6.5 ratings points.

CBS could have used other news types in the studio. Mike Wallace, Morley Safer and Charles Kuralt are filing reports from France, but the network is also aware the Winter Games attract female viewers and thus went with Zahn.

Best bet: CBS has the Daytona 500 for the 14th consecutive year (Sunday, Ch. 13, noon-3:30 p.m.).

Ted Shaker, executive producer of CBS Sports, has worked on the race since 1981, when he helped the network introduce Racecam, the tiny remote-controlled cameras mounted inside the cars. This year the network is adding the Roofcam and Telemetry Graphics.

The Roofcam will be on the roof of Richard Petty's car. The Racecam will be in the cars of Mark Martin, Petty, Morgan Shepherd and Dale Jarrett.

Around the dials: TNT unveiled a new strategy to Winter Olympics hockey coverage by showing games not involving Team USA, including the Team Unified-Czechoslovakia contest Wednesday. The CBS Radio team of play-by-play man Gary Cohen and analyst John Davidson handled Thursday's Team USA-Finland hockey game (heard on WFNS-910) with a judicious mix of game action and emotion. Last Sunday's NBA All-Star Game on NBC (12.8 rating, 26 share) was the most-watched NBA All-Star Game of all time, with just over 35-million viewers. However, it was only the fourth-highest-rated NBA All-Star Game (the 1971 game was the highest). The Winter Games on CBS did slightly better during Sunday's 4:30-6 p.m. time slot (13.1-12.8). NBC will air Magic Johnson's retirement ceremonies Sunday at halftime of the Lakers-Celtics game (3:30 start) at the Forum. ESPN, which outworked CNN and the networks in covering the Mike Tyson rape trial, made it a point not to reveal the accuser's name. However, shortly after Monday night's verdict, Marion County (Ind.) prosecutor Jeffrey Modisett mentioned the accuser's name in an interview with Charley Steiner. ESPN, which receives a 1.6 average weeknight rating on Sports Center during the 11:30-11:45 p.m. time frame, nearly doubled that mark Monday with a 2.9 rating. More Tyson: ESPN will air a one-hour feature on Tyson's life and career Sunday at 8 p.m., leading into the station's regular Sunday fights lineup.