Because television is capable of anything in this regard, there may be a more consistently dumb pattern of decisions in the last decade than NBC's treatment of Channel 4 sportscasters. But none comes to mind.
Surely the peacock must determine who follows Willard at 6 and 11. Or someone with that mentality, who gives an honest workman such as Nick Charles the same back-of-the-hand consideration as an airhead such as Bud Kaatz.
I have a theory about sportscasters, that there are only 13 of them in the entire world and they keep moving from town to town, ripping and reading until management decides another pretty face will increase ratings.
It is difficult to travel extensively in this country without bumping into a sportscaster who did time in Washington: Steve Gilmartin in Houston, Duane Dow in St. Louis, Mike Wolfe in Denver, Klaus Wagner and Steve Bassett in Baltimore and, of course, the mouth that soared, Warner Wolf, in New York.
Banana-republic dictators have more job security. More than one sportscaster, testing the market, has responded to a blind, trade-journal ad and discovered the job for which he applied was in fact his own.
In truth, sportcasting is not quite as open to widely differing opinions as surrealistic art. Still, Howard Cosell managed to be judged the best sportscaster, and the worst, in one national poll. Unlike the athletes about whom they talk, there is no statistical measure that accurately defines a good sportscaster or a bad one.
Glenn Brenner is good, it says here, better than Warner on his best day, witty and informed, someone you would enjoy having in your living room, Fozzy Bear with a mind. He takes neither himself nor his job too seriously, which is why he appeals to both the dilettante and the degenerate.
Nick Charles also is good, though in a way less obvious than Brenner. Charles may have tried too hard at Channel 4. Certainly, he projects a dandy, wise-guy air. You might also invite him into your home, but you'd not be surprised if he tipped over the wine glass or broached a touchy subject.
Image and reality are not even close. Charles is more comfortable in the track kitchen at Pimlico than the Palm. What too few people realize is that he works as hard as any local sportscaster in the country. He has more timely baseball and basketball scores, more of a variety of sports and more willingness to discuss controversial issues than anyone. Yet his opinions are more measured than his script-tossing habits suggest.
To its credit, Channel 4 gave Charles a budget lavish by other area stations. It took an outlay well into four figures to broadcast live from San Antonio as the Bullets evened the NBA conference playoffs last season. It cost well into five figures to broadcast live from Seattle during the Bullets' quest for a repeat championship.
Charles, whose last broadcast is tonight, carried that generosity to its limit. While most sportscasters would do their stand-up, spring training interviews hours before the first pitch and then troop off to the beach, Charles stayed for the entire game. And planned an early morning interview with Bud Delp the next day.
The decision to allow Charles to leave follows a classic blunder with the man he succeeded, Dave Sheehan.
When Wolf was running rampant with local ratings, NBC decided it needed someone equally loud. So it hired the relatively unknown Sheehan from Minneapolis and promoted him extensively as "The Mouth."
Except that what came out of Sheehan's mouth at Channel 4 was less abbrasive than NBC realized. Like Charles, he worked extremely hard but was not extreme with his opinions. He was about as close to a sports reporter as television ever gets, but he simply did not command attention.
Because he did not fit the image NBC fit for him, Sheehan was let go. Charles has even more reportorial instincts than Sheehan. But NBC, or WRC, or whomever, decided that an alternative to Brenner who could not outpoll Brenner was a failure.
Perhaps the Wolf Syndrome is about to repeat itself. Instead of trying to develop alternates, local stations tried to hire Warner clones -- or create them. That same sort of attitude seems afoot now that Brenner is so popular.
Charles has some obvious flaws. At times, he seems to try to jam too many facts into his few minutes, forgetting that most viewers either have a tepid interest in sports or none at all. That is Brenner's splendid knack, 30 seconds of banter at the beginning and the end of each performance while Charles was using his minute for soccer tapes.
Still, Brenner and Charles gave the area its best mix of entertainment and information in recent memory. It is possible that short of choice will be eliminated, that such as Frank Herzog, Mike Patrick and Martin Wyatt might be overlooked or underemphasized during some stampede for a Brenner immitator.
Does only puff sell?