It's unofficial: George Michael, at least in terms of popularity and unpopularity, is the Howard Cosell of local sports television.

In a well-documented poll of TV viewers years ago, it was determined that Cosell was both the most liked and most disliked network sportscaster in America. Now, in an unscientific telephone survey of Washington-area TV viewers, we have determined that Michael, too, fits that love-him-or-hate-him label.

I polled 300 area adults -- 100 from the District, 100 from Maryland and 100 from Virginia -- selecting names at random from the telephone book. Those surveyed were asked two questions each:

"Which local weeknight sportscaster do you most like to watch?"

"Which local weeknight sportscaster do you least like to watch?"

I then listed the four No. 1 local sports anchors -- WUSA-TV-9's Glenn Brenner, WTTG-TV-5's Joe Fowler, WJLA-TV-7's Frank Herzog and WRC-TV-4's Michael -- and here was the response: Most Like to Watch

Michael........78 votes...(26 percent)




Don't Know.....78.........(26) Least Like to Watch

Michael........69 votes...(23 percent)




Don't Know.....53.........(18)

That Michael is the leader of the cast is no shock. He has that unbeatable television combo -- more teeth, more time and more technology than the competition.

Michael had trouble explaining the wide swing of opinion on his work. "When I express an opinion, I guess that provokes reaction one way or the other," he said. "It's always going to be one way or the other. Hey, every time we run {professional} wrestling, 10 people stand up and cheer and five people stand up and boo."

Ernie Baur, a veteran news and sports producer at WTTG, said, "The fact that George is so popular doesn't surprise me because he does a good sportscast. {That so many people dislike him} does surprise me. I like Glenn because of what he does when he's batting it back and forth with {anchorman Gordon Peterson}. Maybe people don't like George because of how he reacts to the other people on the set. Who knows?"

Michael's high-intensity, high-volume, high-profile style, it seems, both draws a very loyal following and drives some potential viewers far, far away. A few other observations from the results: Brenner scored highest overall (best ratio of likable-to-dislikable votes); Herzog evoked very little emotion either way from respondents; Fowler apparently could use a popularity transfusion.

Brenner's strength remains his wonderful sense of humor. That same humor turns off a lot of viewers who wish he would stick to the scores. Highlights often are a series of misadventures for Brenner; sometimes, it's reminiscent of slide shows back in elementary school, when the record-player narration always was one slide ahead or behind what you were seeing.

Herzog, in direct competition with Brenner and Michael, finds himself caught between a funny man and a sports machine. It's as if there's no real niche left for him. The latest approach for Herzog, who could not be reached for comment, combines a folksy, come-straight-with-us conversational style with Channel 7's new and improved projection screen. It's literally a standup routine, with Herzog delivering a line or two, then turning toward the display screen to join with us in watching some highlights.

Finally, there's Fowler, who, unmistakably, remains a novelty act at best. Few viewers swear by him; older viewers, in particular, swear at him more often than not, bothered by his bubble-gum mentality. On an otherwise conservative, close-to-the-vest newscast, Fowler sticks out much as Madonna would at a librarian's convention.

One thing is certain: the sports-viewing market here has changed considerably since Warner Wolf ruled at Channel 9 more than a decade ago.

"When I was working {at Channel 9}, we were real dominant," Baur said. "It was a top-heavy market toward Channel 9. Now, the pie is split up pretty evenly amongst George, Glenn and Frank. Then there's us, but we're not on directly against the others. Warner was competing against the Duane Dows of the world. But nowadays, no one guy dominates; in this market, you really get a choice."

Brenner, asked to analyze the survey findings, said: "If anybody knew exactly what to do in the business, they'd clearly be No. 1 in the market. We just go out there and bang around in the dark. I don't think about it.

"You keep doing it until they tell you you can't do it anymore. In between, you just make as much money as you can. That's what I'm working on right now . . . I'm not going to worry about it until July or August of 1990, because I'm not up again {for contract renewal} until January 1991. Until then, I'll just worry about my {golf} handicap."