Recipe for late-night football snack:
One cup videotaped bloopers, ripe, juicy and hand-picked by George Michael.
A dozen one-liners by Glenn Brenner.
Finely chopped locker room interviews by Frank Herzog.
Dash of Sonny Jurgensen.
Select choice highlights from Michael show and combine with a few others. Stir until sauce thickens, about 25 minutes or so. Serve with leftover scores.
For 13 weeks, both of Washington's Sunday night football highlight shows have put Howard Cosell's "Monday Night Football" highlights to shame. Not only do the locals get the beat on Hizzoner by 24 hours, but they feature the Redskins, they interpret and, in Michael's case, they show tape you don't see elsewhere.
If you've been asleep at the switch this season, drink some black coffee Sunday and stay up for either Michael's "Sports Final" at 11:20 on Channel 4 or Brenner/Herzog/Jurgensen's "SportsBreak" at roughly the same time on Channel 9. The shows are strangely addictive.
The feeling here is that Michael's show wins by at least a touchdown.
Granted, a lot of "Sports Final" is from the gimmick school of electronic arts. Here is George with his coach's clipboard, checking off the games. Here is George punching up phony spools of tape ("For that game let's go to the Astrodome . . .") while the real tape is being rolled in a room upstairs.
But give George a break. His show is the best in town because he has a rule that Channel 9 does not observe.
"The one law that never will be broken here is we will not run what viewers have seen before," Michael says. "I will not run an 'NFL '81' or 'NFL Today' highlight, period. I must have every game, the complete game in its entirety. Then it's up to us to cut it so people will get a different view."
Michael still ranks as the premier sports producer and No. 1 hustler in local TV. He arranges for out-of-town stations to tape events that can't be seen here (say the Cardinals-at-Patriots game Sunday) in return for footage that can't be picked up there (say a Capitals' game featuring Boston-area hero Bobby Carpenter).
Once the distant games are taped, Michael has them flown into Washington by courier. He searches the skies for other games with Channel 4's satellite dish and brings in still others by paying for special telephone lines. He and his staff then watch every minute of all 13 games for pivotal highlights and gems such as the "wildest catch of the day."
In the last few weeks Michael's viewers have seen Houston's Mike Holston slam-dunking a ball over the crossbar, Miami's Duriel Harris hurting his knee while spiking a ball, and any number of shots of high fives, low fives, bodies crunching and Arch McDonald look-alikes wearing wigs. He could rename his show "George!" and it would fit.
Channel 9's highlight scavenging job is easier than it was a few years ago, if only because "The NFL Today" and "NFL '81" -- the networks' Sunday afternoon wrap-around shows -- have overdosed on highlights. Brenner and his crew can simply watch the afternoon shows and start mainlining themselves. It's as easy as snip, snip, snip.
"Most of the important scoring plays, they (CBS) feed us," says "SportsBreak" producer Ernie Bauer. "It's not a matter of getting the entire game and knocking it down." Of course, the flip side of the coin is that viewers see almost exactly what Brent, Irv and Bryant showed them several hours before.
If it weren't for Michael, Channel 9's "SportsBreak" might well be the smoothest highlight show in the country. The reason can be expressed in two words: Frank Herzog.
Herzog, who announces all Redskin games for WMAL radio and usually leaves the TV highlight operation to Brenner, lends a certain depth and perspective to the show. Compare his commentary with that of Scott Clark, George Michael's spear carrier. (It is Scott Clark, isn't it? There are so many second-string Scotts coming and going you never know . . .)
After the Redskins' dramatic victory over the Giants Nov. 15, for example, Herzog sought out Dave Butz in the locker room. Butz said the Redskins were gradually becoming a team. Herzog neatly juxtaposed this footage with an early season interview in which Butz said the Redskins were playing like a pickup squad.
Herzog has a sensible philosophy about highlight shows that Channel 9 ought to chisel in stone: "Thou shalt not succumb to highlight-itis."
"It's so easy to get the highlights now that you can fall into a trap of showing them just because you have them. You get a reaction like, 'Hoo, boy, I just saw 56 football plays in a row and not a whole lot of them make much sense. People want highlights of the games they think are important."
Despite Herzog's advice, Channel 9 occasionally comes down with the highlight disease.
Brenner/Herzog usually show snippets from one or two more games each week than Michael does, which is great in theory but bad in practice. The more games you show, the less you show of each game. Brenner/Herzog average three plays per highlight in a non-Redskin game while Michael averages six.
The result? Michael has time to introduce each game, tell you what it means in the standings, and walk you through each quarter. Perhaps it's not his fault, but when Brenner narrates the highlights, you're gone with the wind. By the end of nine or 10 games, it's just as Herzog said: "Hoo Boy!"
As for comedy, who can beat Brenner? The guy is funnier than Henny Youngman. But running a close second the other night was Michael's curtain-calling highlight piece that revealed what players say to their coaches while using earphones. Said one hunched-over tackle, sitting on a bench, "'Hey, baby, I thought I told you not to call me here."
As they say, it's entertainment, folks. It's also a delicious late-night treat.