Critics Right on Costas; Wrong Re. Reason
When Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) recently acquired network baseball rights, including a new Sunday "Game of the Week," I suggested it contact Bob Costas for play-by-play. In a column, "New York Daily News" TV writer Bob Raissman, among others, agrees. Alas, his rationale misses why Costas should be approached.
Unlike me, Raissman believes that Costas would be receptive. I doubt it: Baseball is no longer Bob’s sun, moon, and stars. More dubious is the "News"’s emphasis on Costas’ airing TBS’ League Championship Series. In truth, Turner’s success depends more on whether regular- than post-season works.
Baseball’s 2007-13 network pact makes TBS a first-time network partner. The Braves’ once-flagship will pay baseball $728 million for April-October coverage. Raissman is correct: Turner, a TIME Warner Company, needs to make a splash v. Fox’s Saturday "Game," All-Star Game, and Series coverage. He is incorrect in how to make it.
Fox will broadcast one L.C.S. yearly. The "News" focuses on the other, still pursued by Fox, ESPN, and Turner. Raissman’s fix: Costas, "A signature voice with a well-established national presence." Say Bob comes aboard. His L.C.S. could end in four games: Endust on fall’s veneer. By contrast, Sunday’s new "Game" would make Costas’ "presence" matter.
Some ignore that key to TBS’ contract: a series potentially akin to CBS TV’s 1955-64 Sunday "Game of the Week." It actually began in 1953 on ABC: "Then a nothing network," said aide Edgar Scherick. ABC needed programming. Scherick broached a Saturday "Game of the Week": sport’s first network TV series. ABC hesitated. Baseball was a regular-season local good. How would "Game" reach TV? Who would notice if it did?
"Football fans watch regardless of team," said Scherick. By contrast, baseball needed a Voice surpassing team: added Ron Powers, "straight out of James Fenimore Cooper by way of Uncle Remus" — Dizzy Dean. Ultimately, 3 in 4 sets in use watched Diz. Had "Game" sunk, said CBS President Bill MacPhail, "maybe TV sports has a different future." Instead, by 1955 its road let to swanker Columbia.
"CBS stakes were higher than ABC’s," said Buddy Blattner, joining CBS in 1955. "They wanted someone who’d known Diz [Bud had on Mutual], could bring him out": becoming Powers, "a mythologizing presence" not couirtly like Red Barber, or eastern like Ted Husing, or a blast furnace like Mel Allen. "The reaction was stunning," mused MacPhail.
CBS added a Sunday "Game" in 1957. Hillary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child. Dean showed how network TV could raise a baseball generation. Costas might do the same. He may not be available. "A lot’s happened since NBC lost baseball [ending 'Game' in 1989]. I’ve gone on to different things."
Costas has done "Dateline," "Later With Bob Costas," the NBA, Olympics, and half-a-dozen films, among other things; become eight-time Sportscaster of the Year; and virtually retired the Emmy Award. His and baseball’s ships have passed in the night. An L.C.S. might not be a harbor worth sharing.
Sunday’s regular-season TBS series might: Bob’s chance to repris 1983-89′s stunning Saturday "Game"on NBC. Costas no longer lusts for baseball. "Different circumstances," he calls today, "different times." Despite that, let Turner approach him — and see if a hint of romance endures.