A FEW seasons back, Part II of the Godfather attracted a sensational share of the television audience playing opposite an ABC Monday night football game. When the TV ratings came out, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos had drawn a 26 percent share of the audience in a business where 30 is considered passing.
Many TV-sports writers told America -- and
Many TV-sports writers told America -- and with glee -- that Cosell & Co. with glee -- that Cosell & Co. had suffered a humiliating defeat at had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Robert De Niro and his thugs. the hands of Robert De Niro and his thugs.
Actually, ABC thought the 26 percent share was something of a victory. The network had figured its share might go as low as 23, considering the appeal of the teams compared to the movie and the fact that the game was anything but great.
ABC was relieved when the final figure was 26. But the TV-sports critics never saw it that way -- except for one or two who understand the nuances of television.
And that's the problem: Most TV-sports reviewers do not understand the ins and outs of our business, and there seem to be more of these critics manning typewriters now than ever before.
Sports editors started assigning writers to review TV sports in the early '70s. Now it seems that nearly every metropolitan paper in america assigns somebody to keep us honest and cause network publicity departments sleepless nights.
These critics concentrate too much on telling the American viewer why he should like certain telecasts. In most cases, the viewer has become discerning enough to know whether a telecast either possesses or lacks quality and imagination. A viewer decides for himself whether he likes or dislikes Brent Musburger, Howard Cosell or Jack Whitaker.
But here are a few TV topics that do deserve scrutiny by the TV-sports critics.
One is extra commercials. They are not common, probably because they are illegal. but they do creep in at times. A local station will pre-empt the action to sneak in an extra commercial, hoping that the viewer won't notice and that no one from the FCC is watching.
Case in point: The 1972 Notre Dame-USC football game. The Irish scored a touchdown, and ABC went to a network commercial. One ABC affiliate followed that commercial with one of its own, actually an extra commercial above the allotment given to affiliates by the network. When that affiliate returned to the game, its audience had missed Anthony Davis going into Notre Dame's end zone with the following kickoff.
Networks don't sneak in extra commercials. Local stations do.
Pre-emption is another thing critics should look at. I believe a live sporting event deserves to be pre-empted for only four reasons -- World War III, the Second Coming, "Casablanca" and Mary Tyler Moore's smile. Not necessarily in that order.
Affiliates attempt to justify preemption of live sporting events with phrases such at "it's counterprogramming" and "it's what the people want." But unless there are unusual circumstances, a station can't justify pre-empting a live sporting event, even for a show that grabs a higher rating.
I feel first-run showings of taped sporting events, such as "Wide World of Sports," "Sports Spectacular" and "Sportsworld" shouldn't be preempted. But this practice fails to upset me as much as knocking a live sporting event off her air.
The critics should protect the viewer from missing live sporting events and be wary of the reasons the affiliates given for pre-empting them. Too many critics get sucked in by the affiliates' rationale, and then tell their readers the local stations are really thinking of the viewers.
Apparently, the critics believe that when our founding fathers wrote the First Amendment, they planned to exclude network television. It seems when network sports become controversial, hands are slapped. The critics keep complaining we've become too bland and lack guts, but when we do tackle a controversial subject, we are told we lack the proper background to talk about that subject.
For instance, when two American runners missed an event in the 1972 Summer Olympics. the press asked the coach some difficult and leading questions, the usual procedure when there's a goof. Yet, when Howard Cosell asked practically the same questions, the press felt Cosell overstepped the line and jumped on the coach like a shark who had smelled blood.
In 1977, Jimmy the Greek said on the season's fifth of sixth broadcast of "NFL Today" that George Allen planned to quit Washington and go to the Los Angeles Rams in 1978. Again, the press attacked. The press pointed out some of the Greek's previous incorrect predictions, ignoring his many correct ones, which far outweigh the errors.
And now for the touchiest subject -- well, at least this month -- in network sports: trashsports. The word was coined by Sports Illustrated's Bill Leggett and, unfortunately for our business, it will probably endure into the 21st century.
Critics fail to understand the appeal of events like "Superstar" (which happens to be an entertaining show and doesn't deserve the negative press criticism). "The World's Strongest Men." "Challenge of the Sexes" and the spinoffs of these shows. The critics don't like the shows so they say the shows deserve to be axed.
But look at the newspapers. I'm convinced that when Gutenberg invented the printing press, he never had such features as Ann Landers, the horoscope, and Social Security contests in mind. Why do the newspapers include various features besides the news? Simple. They sell newspapers. The people want them. But when television takes the same approach, we become dispensers of transports.
It upsets the critics that these shows draw larger audiences than legitimate events, but that's not television's fault. The same situation extends into prime time. CBS News might present a brilliant show on the energy crisis but fail to come close to beating the sitcoms and detective shows.
If the viewers prefer offbeat sporting events to a college or pro basketball game, is that television's fault? If a critic is upset by this, he should rap the viewer, not the networks.
A critic should remember one thing: when a show fails to get an audience, it goes.Only an honest man in Congress has less security.
The decision of so many newspapers to study, analyze, and review network sports programming remains a wise decision -- but only if these critics concentrate more on the philosophy of our business and not become too pedanue. And they shouldn't equate sports television with the salvation of man. TV sports is fun and games and isn't to be taken too seriously.