"Fast Break," WDVM-TV-9's new show covering Washington-area basketball, is one part journalism, one part basketball clinic and one part morality play.
The show, which debuted last Saturday for a 10-week run, is co-hosted by WDVM sportscaster James Brown and DeMatha High Coach Morgan Wootten. It's a fast-paced half hour concentrating on high school basketball.
"I've always thought it would be great if there was a show that covered Washington-area basketball," Wootten said. "When I saw James doing so much TV work at Channel 9, I thought it would be a natural."
Wootten and Brown, a 1969 DeMatha graduate, work well together. The coach and the player kept in touch over the years, and when Brown started doing color on Washington Bullets games in 1978, he contacted Wootten. "I went to Morgan and reviewed my basketball knowledge from a coaching perspective. I wanted to sharpen my analytical skills," Brown said.
For years, Wootten has proven as adept at handling the media as any high school coach. And after watching him for a few minutes on "Fast Break," you can see why: he's smooth, well-spoken and cool. He could anchor "NewsCenter 4" better than Bob McBride.
"I just listened to what they told me to do," said Wootten, a broadcasting novice. "I decided that I was just going to be myself. Having James there was reassuring."
On the initial "Fast Break," there was an excellent segment on the DeMatha-Power Memorial game of 20 years ago, interviews with the Bullets' Cliff Robinson and Maryland's Len Bias and highlights of the game of the week (Spingarn-Eastern).
Each week, "Fast Break" will feature a top game and a top player, rank the top five teams by region and present Wootten in an instructional role of sorts, explaining basketball fundamentals. Brown will contribute segments on local products playing college or pro ball.
Unlike WDCA-TV-20's "High School Sports Show," "Fast Break" limits itself to the scholastic area of greatest interest in Washington -- basketball -- and brings us a quality production. If the show can work out a few kinks, it will be a welcome addition.
"Fast Break" intends to be an upbeat, positive look at area basketball. The show is not there to be critical. I can accept that, but I cannot accept as easily the show's insistence on hitting us over the head with the importance of being earnest.
"Fast Break" echoes sort of a "Leave It to Beaver" morality -- that if you work hard at school, listen to intelligent advice and eat all your brussel sprouts, you can make it. It's a commendable approach, but the show would play stronger, I suspect, without the soft-sell sermon.
Brown and Wootten acknowledged two unusual problems on the first show and pledged to correct them.
First of all, of 12 advertisements within the body of the show, eight of them were Wootten pedaling Puma shoes. (Puma's sponsorship is an outgrowth of Wootten's relationship with the company; as a member of its staff, he conducts five clinics a year for Puma.) The commercials were inoffensive enough, but watching the same two spots repeatedly over 30 minutes tests the viewer's tolerance.
There was also the inexplicable presence of a dozen or so spectators situated in bleacher-type seating just to the side of the set. They did not applaud or react. They did not create any waves. They could still be sitting there at this very moment.
"That was poor, very poor," Brown said. "We were going to have 40 or 50 students from Spingarn come in to watch. But that was the night it snowed (on the Thursday taping date), and only a few showed. We were caught between a rock and a hard place."
"Fast Break" will air every Saturday before CBS' NCAA or NBA game.
ABC's "Pro Bowlers Tour" is in its 24th winter. And season after season, the Saturday show consistently beats its sporting competition.
Last season, ABC's bowling drew a 7.2 rating to CBS' 5.5 and NBC's 5.4 (the percentage of television homes tuning in). Last month, in the new season's first four weeks, the bowlers rated 6.0 to CBS' 5.5 and NBC's 3.7.
Even two weekends ago, when CBS featured the best regular-season college basketball game to date -- St. John's at Georgetown -- bowling held its own. CBS rated 7.6, the bowling 7.4 and NBC, showing college basketball and track and field, rated 2.6.
However, WJLA-TV-7, ABC's Washington affiliate, preempts the bowling show much of the time. Baltimore's WJZ-TV-13 usually does not.