The opening credits of George Michael's Sunday night "Sports Final" usually start with a low-angle shot of Channel 4's two satellite dishes.
A subtle jab.
Michael, whose mouth is almost as impressive as his mandate to make sports respectable at NBC-owned WRC-TV, has relied on these big dishes to fuel his chief selling point: bigger highlights helpings than the other guys offer.
On Sunday nights, he has had the edge.
The other guys, CBS affiliate WDVM-TV-9, have had no earth satellite station of their own to pit against Michael's one-uplinkmanship these last 2 1/2 years. The restaurant next door even bought a satellite dish; not Channel 9. The station continued to invest its sports budget primarily in salaries, primarily for three guys--one funny, one Sonny, one Frank--and has managed in this way to fend off the relentless Michael Machine.
The good news: Channel 9 will soon have its first dish, operational in a few weeks, ready to pick off the latest from ESPN, HBO, USA, WTBS and a half-dozen other specialty/cable sports wholesalers you never heard of.
The bad news: Channel 9 apparently is not going to be able to make much use of a satellite link--or of much else--on Sunday nights for much longer. "Sports Break" very likely will "take a hiatus" in March, said News Director David Pearce, to make room for a new syndicated talk show hosted by Larry King. Channel 9 plans to air the show at 11:30 Sunday nights.
"If that happens, Sundays are pretty slow news days and we may deal with the news quickly at 11, and maybe devote the last 15 minutes to sports," Pearce said. A Redskins/NFL show, "Sports Break" or otherwise, would "definitely" be found air time in the fall, Pearce said.
Meanwhile, of course, George Michael--as well as his full-time tape editor, full-time writer, his network-underwritten global search for videotape, his nine-event monitoring capabilities, his 24-hour "Sports Final" call-in line and his steady sub, Scott Clark--will lay down and die until Channel 9 returns.
The Sunday night show always has been an essential part of Channel 9's significant sports presence--dating back to the days when Glenn Brenner's performance was bigger news than his salary, to when Sonny Jurgensen was terrible but Channel 4 was unfailingly worse.
Though everything else has kept changing, Frank Herzog and his "Sports Break" have fairly steadily given Channel 9 a special Sunday night presence--one that Tim Brandt, say, just isn't afforded at Channel 7. Brandt gets 13 minutes of an 18-minute newscast at 11 Sunday nights--enough for bare-bones highlights, but no time for the kind of writing, tape-cutting and locker-room reportage that Herzog's show does best.
Or . . . was that Michael's show that does it best? Whose microphone is that in front of Dexter Manley? Whose excellently edited and written "Christmas Story" was that about Mark Moseley's NFL record? (Herzog.) Whose pretty piece on Genuine Risk? (Michael.)
The first Sunday night after the NFL strike ended, Channel 9 changed the title of its 11:30 "Sports Break" show to "Redskins: The Second Season." Non-NFL scores and highlights were relegated to Herzog's foreshortened report during the 11 o'clock news. Some wondered whether Channel 9 finally had conceded the weekend clipfest to Michael, whose 20 minutes of Redskins-plus-everything-else "Sports Final" comes on about 11:20, following a a sports-less newscast.
"Second Season" was supposed to be a special, Herzog says, warranted by the NFL's wild--and the Redskins' wonderful--1982 season. It turned out so nice--what with two taped Herzog features and one live Sonny Jurgensen analysis of The Game, plus NFL highlights and much-needed playoff explanations--that it stayed on. The show now will run as long as the Redskins do, Herzog says.
Herzog and others say Channel 9 hasn't conceded anything because it never competed directly with Michael on Sunday nights. That means "Sports Break," since its inception as a 15-minute Herzog showcase in the spring of 1978, has always leaned toward longer, more thoughtful stories and fewer (or slower-paced) highlights. It always has known (and loved) the Redskins a little better than anyone else, also.
It makes sense right now for Channel 9 to stack Sunday night with its Redskins authorities--namely Herzog, the Redskins' radio play-by-play man, and Jurgensen, a Washington quarterback of some note who recently has stopped cheering and/or chafing on the air and finally seems to be having some fun. (Glenn Brenner now has weekends off--to help sharpen The Sardonic Man's senses, it is said, for his weekday one-on-one against Michael.)
Sending "Sports Break" to the showers in March, however, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.