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CBS' studio hosts get less air time, freedom

More on Paula Zahn and Tim McCarver at the Winter Olympics: CBS executives have simplified things for their struggling prime-time anchors by making subtle but necessary alterations.

Fact: McCarver and Zahn are on camera each night for no more than 15 minutes, but they are the major voices at the Winter Games.

They are now doing even less talking on their own. You can watch them conduct interviews with analysts like Scott Hamilton (figure skating) and athletes like USA goalie Ray LeBlanc, who both appeared on the studio monitor.

The two have also made personal changes. Zahn has a different hair style. McCarver is wearing eyeglasses.

Bottom line: Viewers are watching the Winter Games, not the studio hosts. Friday night's 16.8 national rating and 30 share brought CBS' seven-night average to 18.8/29, compared with the seven-day 18.1/28 for ABC four years ago during the Winter Games in Calgary.

Candid appraisals: Quinn Buckner, former NBA player and college star, isn't necessarily out to win friends and influence people. As studio analyst for NBC's pre-game show on NBA telecasts, "I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings. I simply deal with the information that I have available to me."

Buckner talks candidly about issues while other analysts conveniently talk around them. Many of those analysts are former NBA players and coaches, who may or may not have designs on returning to the league as a coach or front-office executive.

Buckner recently criticized Detroit Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey for signing forward Orlando Woolridge to a contract extension without asking coach Chuck Daly for his opinion.

In Sunday's pregame show, he and NBA insider Peter Vescey exchanged opinions on several proposed trades, including one deal in which the Boston Celtics would send guard Sherman Douglas to the Los Angeles Clippers in return for a power forward.

Vescey: "Now is the time to move Douglas for a power forward."

Buckner: "That's hard for me to believe . . . to trade a guard for a power forward, there are not many people that are going to do that."

Vescey: "The Clippers will do it."

Buckner: "The Clippers are . . . different."

Buckner has various contacts and sources around the NBA, and he doesn't mind sharing that information with viewers.

"I don't have a hidden agenda. I'm not interested in coaching," he said. "If you're honest and balanced, the rest of the stuff works itself out."

Around the dials: CBS opened Sunday afternoon's Winter Games coverage immediately following the end of the Daytona 500 by joining the Canada-Unified Team hockey game live in the second period. . . . Bonnie Blair, the only American to win two gold medals in Albertville, told afternoon studio hosts Jim Nantz and Andrea Joyce that she has not decided whether she will return for the 1994 Winter Games. . . . ABC's counter-programming to CBS' coverage of the Daytona 500 and the Winter Games was a mediocre college basketball doubleheader (Duke-North Carolina State and Louisville-DePaul). Only No. 1 Duke is ranked among the Top 25 teams. . . . NBC is quickly becoming the Magic Johnson channel. Johnson's presence at the NBA All-Star Game last week helped the network attract a record 35-million viewers. Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers retired Johnson's No. 32 during halftime of the Lakers-Celtics game, and NBC turned it into an event, promoting the special ceremony during the first game of its doubleheader. NBC showed highlights of Johnson's career throughout Game 2 (Celtics-Lakers) until the halftime show took on more importance than the contest between the two former NBA powers.