When Frank Herzog finally appears in Tim Brant's sports-anchor chair at Channel 7 on May 30, after being Channel 9's No. 2 man for eight years, he'll no doubt be located in the middle of your screen. But if we're real lucky, Herzog will come to occupy another middle ground: the one between highlights and high jinks.
Between Channel 4's George Michael and Channel 9's Glenn Brenner, to put it another way.
Chances are, either you like Michael or you like Brenner, but you don't like both.
Michael and his staff spare no expense to bring us videotape of every pertinent play they can, through the miracle of satellite technology and the less-miraculous but equally vital process of good writing and editing. But if you're not the type who has to see every reverse layup or muffed grounder, or you could care less about rodeo or pro wrestling, Michael is eventually going to give you a headache. And sometimes he tries too hard, but more on that later.
NBC, through its owned-and-operated WRC-TV-4, invested its money in Michael's ability to put together good people and good equipment. At WDVM-TV-9, on the other hand, the CBS affiliate's money is mostly in Brenner, a sitting-down standup comic whose sportscasts make up in spontaneous combustion what they miss in a ballpark in Pittsburgh.
Which they do miss, frequently--and, as WDVM will tell you, intentionally. That Jim Valvano's Touchdown Club monologue took up 3 1/2 minutes of Wednesday night's eight-minute sportscast on Channel 9 was no mistake, for instance.
"To compete with George, to try to put on highlight after highlight, would be a mistake. That's not my shtick. That's not what they pay me to do," Brenner says, sitting in an office that resembles Michael's about as much as "Three's Company" resembles "Gone With the Wind."
Where Michael and staff have a wall of 10 monitors, two adjacent recording/editing booths and two walls of windows, Brenner has a sofa with no legs, a view of an alley, a typewriter and no TV. The walls are marked primarily by art work his daughter Amy did when she was 2 ("She's 28 now," he deadpans), scraps of tape and nail holes, and a series of football-shaped dents from the time "Sonny (Jurgensen) was practicing his throw."
"My philosophy--and it's been said to me by every news director I've ever talked to--is that 75 percent of the people who watch television news are not that interested in sports. My feeling is, why just try to appeal to the 25 percent?"
Draft day. Michael had the only footage of the Redskins' No. 1 choice, Darrell Green (assistant Michael Stone had pictures of nine likely Redskins choices ready, just in case), plus footage of every first-round pick. Plus Scott Clark's interview with Bobby Beathard at Redskin Park, the only TV interview in which somebody asked Beathard why in the world would a team choose someone (fullback Richard Williams) who'd broken his leg twice and whose team (Memphis State) was 0-11.
Brenner had no footage of Green. He introduced Jurgensen's interviews with Green and with Beathard by saying: "All we know is he's a cornerback, he played at Texas A&I, he's short and he runs real fast."
The truth is, lately Channel 9 has been using more taped highlights than ever before. Two months ago, it acquired its first satellite dish, to help compete with Michael, who's had two dishes for three years. This would be fine, if Brenner did not have a tendency to hurry through clips to leave time for his other "shtick."
Brenner now has most of the technological resources to meet Michael, clip for clip, if he wanted--but he says he doesn't, and he doesn't narrate tape as carefully as Michael does, anyway. Brenner will miss Herzog, who writes well to tape, more than Herzog misses Brenner.
Herzog has been promised comparable resources at Channel 7--resources never made available to Brant--and he is as good a TV sports reporter as any. WJLA-TV-7 Station Manager Dow Smith says Herzog will be freer to pursue local high school, college and amateur sports features--the single largest casualty of the videotape glut in local TV sportscasts.
We'll see. We may have a three-way horse race yet.
Meantime, you want more games, more plays of the week, the most well-orchestrated sportscast in town--you see George Michael. Be advised, though, that every once in a while, you will see Michael step out of bounds.
Last Friday, Michael reported, as did everyone else, that the University of Maryland had officially reprimanded basketball Coach Lefty Driesell for his intervention in the disciplinary case of his player, Herman Veal, accused of trying to force sexual attentions on a female student. But Michael added another report on the situation, based on affidavits he said were signed by two Maryland students, during the 5:30 and 6 o'clock news.
WRC News Director Jim Van Messel said the story was killed--Michael didn't even use the Driesell reprimand story at 11--because the sources were not felt to be strong enough, and because "we weren't sure where we were going to go with it," especially after the reprimand.
Michael felt the reprimand was the occasion to, as he puts it, "at least get one slice out of the loaf of bread" on the air--but really, this is one case where "highlights" were not called for. Michael's "loaf" is now in the hands of WRC investigative reporter Jack Cloherty, where it should have been all along.