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  Everything Was to the Nines, Except the Telecast

MCI Center By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 6, 1997; Page D7

For those without a ticket to Tuesday night's grand opening of MCI Center, the only entree to the glitzy proceedings was to sit back and watch it all on television, either the HTS-produced broadcast of the Wizards playing Seattle on WUSA-9 or the national telecast on TNT.

I chose the local route, including a 30-minute pregame special/infomercial on Abe Pollin's new downtown palace hosted by Channel 9's Ken Broo and Gordon Peterson. I also came away from the evening feeling as if I'd have been far better off being there.

Yes, this was a very special night in Washington sports history, and anyone who went was still tingling from the excitement the next day judging from the raves you kept hearing from almost everyone in attendance. Even radio talk show callers were juiced about the place and the experience, but those same goose-bump thrills somehow just didn't to translate over the airwaves.

Channel 9 tried very hard in the pregame show, using several reporters, as well as Pollin, to give viewers a video tour of the place. Pollin told Broo that "I want to be on the cutting edge" of American sports arenas. "I want people to follow me."

What I did not want to follow was Frank Herzog in a sporting goods store on the premises telling me I'd have my choice of three different colored Wizards hats if I patronized the joint. And how many times did we have to see members of a clearly upscale, suit-and-tie crowd sipping on their cocktails in the high-end restaurant overlooking the arena.

One of the emotional highlights of the evening had to be Pollin's courtside speech to a first-night audience that included President Clinton. But I wouldn't know. When Pollin was speaking, Channel 9 "Eyewitness Sports" viewers were looking at a graphic of the starting lineups and listening to play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz list the players and their positions. Pollin's last sentence made it on the air. It wasn't enough.

Once the game began, basketball took over. Buckhantz, in his first year as the TV voice of the Wizards , is mostly competent on the play-by-play, and thankfully, not too much of a homer. He'd do well to cut back on standard basketballspeak-hoops, buckets, boards, off the glass, dish, etc.-and let the pictures do the talking.

Analyst Phil Chenier also has a tendency to tell us what we can see for ourselves. On Tuesday, there were several illegal defense calls, but no explanation from the analyst. Give the man a tellestrator, stop the action on tape and show the audience why the whistle blew.

During games on Channel 9, Broo will be employed as a sideline reporter, working the bench and the crowd. On Tuesday night, he was hardly used at all despite all the bigwigs in attendance for the opening. Only ESPN's David Aldridge got President Clinton — a guest in Pollin's suite — on the air in a segment taped for use later on "SportsCenter."

Instead, Channel 9 had to settle for Ken Mease asking a man in the restaurant what he'd be ordering from the menu.

"Cheese fries," the man deadpanned. Too often, viewers were fed the TV equivalent, on a filet mignon kind of night.

9 Scoops 4
Let's also give credit to Channel 9 for getting the news about Redskins quarterback Gus Frerotte's fractured hip on the air first Monday afternoon. The station broke into soap opera programming at about 3:30 with a bulletin from anchor Mike Buchanan in the studio.

Buchanan, a longtime reporter and anchor at the station, got the initial tip that Frerotte was in the hospital. The station contacted the Redskins, who confirmed it about 30 minutes before Coach Norv Turner met with the media at his usual Monday 4 p.m. news conference.

The irony of Channel 9 breaking the story is that Channel 4 pays Frerotte to appear regularly on its 6 o'clock Monday sportscast. Channel 4 went with the story on its early newscast, and recovered on the 6 o'clock with Frerotte on the telephone from the hospital with George Michael and Sonny Jurgensen in the studio.

More irony. About a month ago, Jeff Hostetler, who now takes over for Frerotte on the field, began appearing on Channel 9's Friday early-evening newscast. He's been doing it gratis because he wants to learn the television business. He goes to the station after practice on Friday and works in the sports department, much the same way former Redskin Charles Mann, now a Channel 9 sports reporter, did at the end of his playing career.

High 5
A postscript to the MCI opening. Chick Hernandez put together a package for Channel 5's 10 o'clock sports segment that included Buckhantz, the station's former longtime sports director, playing the role of ticket taker at the entrance and giving Hernandez directions to his seat.

Buckhantz, of course, left Channel 5 to take the Wizards job. He had hoped to keep working part-time at the station, but that's not going to happen. We hear not everyone at Channel 5 thought the Buckhantz bit was very funny. Too bad.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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