Choosing from among Washington's weekend sportscasters -- Jim Berry, Steve Buckhantz, Ken Mease and Todd Whitthorne -- is a bit like choosing from among peanut butters in the supermarket. Now, we all eat peanut butter, but many of us can't tell the difference between Jif, Skippy and Peter Pan; we just end up getting whichever one is 20 cents cheaper that week.
Similarly, we all watch weekend television, but most of us just end up watching the weekend sportscaster of whichever station we happen to have tuned in. Unlike the more high-profile weeknight sportscasters here, the weekend chaps have less distinct differences. And circumstances push all of them into fairly similar approaches -- weekends are filled with sporting events, so they generally guide us through wall-to-wall highlights.
There are some differences, however. Here's a look at those sportscasters (listed in order of personal preference): Ken Mease, WUSA-TV-9
Data: 6 feet, 215 pounds; 45 years old; hometown -- Selinsgrove, Pa.; college -- Susquehanna University; residence -- Gaithersburg; joined station September 1986.
Quotable: On being the backup sportscaster at a station -- "I really try not to think about it as being No. 2; I try to think of it as working with Glenn Brenner. He's definitely the star of the show. Our styles are so different that they really complement each other. I know what my role is here, and I'm happy to fill it."
Assessment: He's almost a throwback to an earlier TV era, a guy who doesn't look that slick or sound that slick but barrels ahead with a relatively straightforward, no-frills approach. Once in a while, he'll try a knockout punch line that can hit or miss. Biggest weakness: sometimes choosing not to give us a score until the end of a highlights package. His on-the-street reporting is the most consistent in town since Frank Herzog left Channel 9 to become sports anchor at Channel 7. Todd Whitthorne, WRC-TV-4
Data: 6 feet 4, 190 pounds; 30 years old; hometown -- Palos Verdes, Calif.; college -- UCLA; residence -- Gaithersburg; joined station December 1986.
Quotable: On working for George Michael -- "George is a great organizer and he's very, very demanding. His theory is to strive for perfection because the alternative is unacceptable. I equate working for George to playing for Bobby Knight -- not everyone can work for him, but those who do know they could win the national championship."
Assessment: His greatest attribute may be that he seldom offends -- he just goes along unobtrusively, highlight to highlight, keeping the flame on the George Michael Sports Video Empire flickering until King George returns each Monday. He's a likable fellow. But there are cracks in that handsome facade -- he's too rah-rah with the local teams (almost a contagious disease among D.C. sportscasters); when he substitutes on weeknights, there often will be no mix, only baseball, on his 11 p.m. spot; his on-the-street reports could use a bit more depth. Still, he's unendingly pleasant, and personality never gets in the way of his product. Steve Buckhantz, WTTG-TV-5
Data: 5 feet 10, 173 pounds; 32 years old; hometown -- Arlington; college -- James Madison; residence -- Reston; joined station March 1984.
Quotable: On his on-air style -- "While I don't try to emulate anyone, I did grow up in this area and got a chance to see Warner Wolf and Glenn Brenner. Glenn, to this day, has been my favorite. I like that comical approach" . . . On being No. 2 at the station -- "The toughest thing is not being able to anchor enough to let the audience see your personality."
Assessment: He has built-in advantages and disadvantages -- he's been doing it here longer than his competition and is the only D.C.-area native of the bunch; on the other hand, he gets only one sportscast a night and it comes at 10:45, which means he often has incomplete scores and must go head-to-head against prime-time network programming. He knows the score around town -- even if he sometimes gives it incorrectly -- and his on-the-street reports are second only to Mease's. He's not our vision of the ideal sportscaster, but he fits into Channel 5's landscape a lot better than soon-to-depart weeknight terror Joe Fowler. Jim Berry, WJLA-TV-7
Data: 6 feet, 170 pounds; hometown -- Chicago; college -- Northwestern; residence -- Washington; became station's weekend sportscaster September 1986.
Quotable: On competing with Channels 4 and 9 -- "One is a video jukebox, the other is good coverage with a lot of humor. Where do we fill in the blanks? By going out and doing good coverage locally" . . . On switching to sports from news -- "News is obviously important, but there are days when you say, 'Boy, if I have to go to another barricade situation, I'm going to scream.' "
Assessment: After 5 1/2 years at Channel 7 as a news reporter and anchor, Berry made the jump into sports, encouraged by Herzog. Seemingly, he has the tools to be as good as anyone doing weekend sports here -- intelligence, a good perspective, a long association with the area. Plus, he obviously enjoys his new position immensely. But somehow, it doesn't work yet. (Hey, but just because I don't like him doesn't mean he should look for another line of work; for instance, when I was little, my parents didn't like me, but I didn't go looking for a new family.) He's weak on highlights and makes far too many errors with names. Although he makes an effort to provide the best variety of sports news of any weekend anchor, he still seems a bit unsure of himself.