Tonight's fifth game of the National Basketball Association's championship series between Boston and Houston will not be televised live from Boston Garden as was previously announced by WDVM-TV-9, the Washington CBS affiliate. The 8:05 game will be taped and shown at 11:30 p.m.
Edwin Pfeiffer, Channel 9's vice president/general manager, accepted most of the responsibility for what all concerned parties described yesterday as a major misunderstanding involving CBS, the NBA and Channel 9. Pfeiffer said he had misunderstood a memo the network sent affiliate stations concerning televising the fifth and sixth games of the best-of-seven series.
Pfeiffer said he was "flabbergasted" at being told late yesterday that Channel 9 would not be allowed to carry tonight's game live.
The series is tied at 2-2. Pfeiffer said Thursday's sixth game, in Houston, definitely will be shown live by Channel 9 at 10 p.m.
The problem began with the memo CBS sent its affiliates and the NBA before the series started. The memo read:
"Championship Series -- There will be no departure from the 11:30 p.m. scheduling of non-decisive weekday games (No. 1, No. 2). But should the series go to weekday Game No. 5 (May 12) and Game No. 6 (May 14), NBA franchise cities will be able to request prime coverage of the decisive game, if they pay all line charges."
Commissioner Larry O'Brien, seeking as much exposure as possible for his league, then said the NBA would pay the line charges for any station deciding to show the games. Because of the problems in getting lines set up and cleared, the stations had to make their intentions known last Wednesday, the day after the first game of the series was played. Channel 9 was the only station to take up O'Brien on his offer.
Pfeiffer gave the go-ahead, and the station said the fifth game would be televised live.
"All along I was assuming that if the series went five games, we would do it on a live basis," he said.
Pfeiffer said he was operating, he thought, under the terms of the CBS memo. "I have to assume now that it was an error on our part that I didn't understand what 'decisive' meant."
To CBS, as explained in a previous memo, "decisive" meant a game that could end the series; that one team already had won three games.
"We were laboring under the impression that if there was a fifth game, we would be able to carry it," Pfeiffer said. "The word 'decisive' as a qualifier never entered into my thinking. We have to be considered the heavy in this whole thing and I feel the responsibility because the word 'decisive' was overlooked."
David Stern, legal counsel for the NBA, said the league also was under the impression that Channel 9 could show the game live. He said that from reading the memo, he could easily understand why Channel 9 thought so.
CBS however, same Game 5 isn't a "decisive" game, so it can't be televised live.
"I can see how this puts the program director in a bind," Stern said. "He went ahead and changed his programming, thinking he would be allowed to show the game."
"The Tuesday preemption was fine because it was just a movie ("The Five of Me") and it's in our style to go against the norm sometimes," Pfeiffer said. "And since it was a live event, we decided to go with it. Thursday created a problem, though, because we're preempting a Bob Newhart special and we're pushing the news back."
"It was just an unfortunate misunderstanding on what decisive means," Stern said, "and since they had to make the decision last week, they assumed they would show the game live and we believe they should be able to do it."
O'Brien said he accepted the CBS decision because it is part of the contract that the league signed with the network and not a change in policy.
CBS is the top-rated network and May is a ratings sweep month. The network does not want to risk a drop in its ratings by televising in prime time a basketball game that has limited appeal.
"This is all a very complex thing and I imagine there are ramifications beyond just us showing a basketball game," Pfeiffer said.
Washington, Denver, Houston, Boston and Providence will air Thursday's game live.
Houston, Boston and Providence have shown all the games live because local teams are involved and those affiliates operate under a different arrangement with CBS.