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NBC banking on Harrison to spice up its studio show

Rodney Harrison, NBC: One of the drawbacks of being part of a cast nearly as big as Lost is that you get a precious few minutes to make an impact. During his brief career as a studio analyst on NBC's Football Night in America, Jerome Bettis was a likeable guy who failed to make the same impression on viewers as he did on NFL defensive tackles. Now comes Harrison, a 15-year veteran, who joined the network last week along with longtime Colts coach Tony Dungy.

For former athletes, network broadcasting success is often determined by whether the athlete is serious about breaking away from his former life and the jock culture. Both Harrison and Dungy appeared on NBC's Super Bowl pregame coverage and impressed the brass. "Certain guys you definitely respect their opinions, but other guys I felt like they were afraid to come out and really tell the hard truth, and as an analyst, it is your job be fair but honest," Harrison says. "Sometimes you have to be brutally honest with guys who you have played with, guys that are your friends."

During his introductory conference call, Harrison was not shy. He called out Peyton Manningfor airing his displeasure about the Colts' coaching plans, and Vince Young for his immaturity.

On Manning: "That really gives Tom Brady the edge over Peyton Manning in terms of leadership because he's a guy that if this went on in New England, he wouldn't come out publicly and he wouldn't make a big fuss about it. I think as a leader on a team, you being Peyton Manning, a Hall of Famer, you need to keep it in house. You have so many guys looking up to you and once they see the panic on your part, then all of a sudden they start getting nervous. I have a lot of respect for Peyton Manning but this is a guy at times that needs to control his emotions and not allow these things that should stay in house, get outside of those walls."

On Young: "Unfortunately for Vince Young, this is not the University of Texas, this is the National Football League. You have to win here and you have to win now. Obviously he is a very talented guy. I think what happened to him is that he got caught up in somewhat of the dark side, partying, not prioritizing and making football his number one thing. I think a lot of these young kids nowadays come into the league and think they can survive on talent alone, and it's not that way... This is a critical time for him. If he doesn't become a starter in the next two years, you'll find him as a career backup."

Among those who cover the league, Harrison had a reputation for being forthright and straightforward. A major test will be when the subject of substance abuse comes up: Harrison was suspended in 2007 for the first four regular-season games after violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

NBC has yet to announce whether its studio show will air during the preseason, but Harrison should know that executive opinions change quickly in television. Just ask Bettis. It was only three years ago when NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said of then recently-retired Steeler: "He did his audition with Cris (Collinsworth) and Bob (Costas) and literally blew us away."

"I know he was a very good coach. I'd love to see him officiate. I would invite Jeff to come to our officiating camp. He might actually learn something more about officiating."-- NBA Commissioner David Stern, responding to ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy's criticism of the officials, on Sirius Mad Dog Unleashed.

"I think it's too soon to declare him the greatest player of all time because he's still behind (Rafael) Nadal lifetime."-- ESPN's Bud Collins, refreshingly going against the grain when asked by ESPNNews if Roger Federer is the greatest player of all-time. (Nadal owns an 11-5 record against Federer.)

"It may be sweeping the country, but so did hula-hoops. And so did pet rocks. This is incredibly sort of self-indulgent." -- ESPN's Tony Kornheiser on Twitter's growing popularity, during a recent episode of the On the DL podcast. (For more self-indulgence, you can follow PTI's Twitter here.)

• NBC's announcers and camera operators reacted well to the red beret-wearing knucklehead who stormed the court during Sunday's men's French Open final. Announcer Ted Robinson properly referenced the on-court stabbing of Monica Seles ("Of all sports, this one is the one that experienced the absolute worst of the nightmare with Monica Seles") and John McEnroe likely spoke for millions of tennis fans when he said, "Get this guy out of here!" Most striking was the camera angle from Federer's side, showing the fear that came over Federer's face before he quickly realized the man was unlikely to harm him.

• McEnroe's remarkable ability to make every broadcast (at least a part of it) about himself is annoying, but his interview with Federer following his win was charming theater. The broadcaster asked Federer if he could hold the French Open trophy "just to see what it felt like."

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• ABC horse racing analyst Jerry Bailey was on his game during the network's Saturday coverage of the Belmont Stakes. He immediately noted jockey Calvin Borel's move on Mine That Bird "was a little premature" and that the Kentucky Derby-winning horse got rank with Borel very early in the race. Former SI senior writer Bill Nack, arguably the greatest modern horse racing writer, offered elegance with his narration for a feature on the field.

• The Wall Street Journal's live blogging of the French Open was sensational. Particular praise goes to the longtime tennis writer, Tom Perrotta.

• Van Gundy has been praised often in this column for his work as an analyst, but he turned to the old us-against-them refrain (them being the media) during a conference call last week to hype the NBA Finals. "As far as [LeBron James] not meeting the media afterward, to me, if he doesn't want to meet the media all the time, to me that's great." To me, that's weak. I don't expect Van Gundy to morph into Ted Koppel now that he's a broadcaster, but he's employed by the largest sports media organization in this country, one that brings press conferences to its fans. James is one of the classiest athletes in sports, but he was wrong and Stern correctly fined him $25,000 for skipping the postgame news conference after Cleveland lost to Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals.

• As the rest of the world watched Federer outlast Juan Martin del Potro in the French Open semifinals, here in the States tennis aficionados were left searching for streaming international video feeds or radio coverage (quite good) from the Roland Garros official site. The match wasn't shown live because NBC's contract with the tournament allowed it to air only one of the semifinals and gave NBC a "blackout window" after its broadcast of the first match ended. NBC opted to air the first semifinal between Robin Soderling and Fernando Gonzalez, giving them an exclusive time window between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in all time zones. An NBC Sports spokesperson said if the Soderling- Gonzalez match had ended before it came on the air, it would have aired the Federer match because the Tennis Channel had agreed to let them broadcast the match live. Instead, the Tennis Channel aired the semifinal tape-delayed that afternoon. (As one colleague said to me in mock frustration: "Bonnie Hunt [who's show aired in New York] was awesome today.") The three networks involved with the French (NBC, ESPN and The Tennis Channel) need to figure out a system in 2010 so that matches on the final Friday at the French can air in the U.S. live.

•Inexplicably, ABC's cameras were focused on Magic forward Rashard Lewis heading to the bench when Lakers forward Pau Gasol scored a second-quarter dunk with 24.4 seconds in the second quarter of Game 2. It was the final basket of the first half, but we never saw it.

"Just finished a romantic dinner with my wife at the food court in the mall. My love knows no bounds!"-- Mark Schlereth, ESPN football analyst, June 4, 9:34 p.m.

"Mine That Bird Litter (sic) rambunctious here. Dunkirk looks cool as does Summer Bird."-- Joe Drape, New York Times horse racing writer, June 6, 6:02 p.m. (moments before Summer Bird finished ahead of Dunkirk)

"I haven't seen one set of fake dreadlocks at Dodger Stadium all day"-- Tim Dahlberg, national sports columnist, Associated Press, June 6, 6:54 p.m.

159-- Combined age of Dr. Jack Ramsey and Hubie Brown, the co- analysts on ESPN Radio's coverage of the Finals.

8.2-- Nielsen fast national rating for Magic-Lakers NBA Finals Game 2, down 3.5 percent from Game 2 of the Celtics-Lakers series in '08 but up 32 percent from the Spurs-Cavs in 2007.

A must-readL.A. Times piece by Kurt Streeter on fathers, sons and the French Open.

No doubt some television watchers were surprised that Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr. named ESPN's Chris Berman to present him for Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. But from this corner, the news hardly seems shocking. Berman has long been close with the Bills franchise and I know firsthand the fondness many of the team's staffers have for him. As a starving college student, I covered the Bills for a weekly during the team's halcyon days and saw Berman often around Rich Stadium, especially during the postseason. "He's a man I admire very much and I'm honored to just be there," Berman said of Wilson in a statement.

Berman has long been a zealot for the franchise ("Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills etc...") and plenty of Bills fans will enjoy his presence on Hall of Fame day. Plus, Wilson has every right to choose anyone (perhaps short of O.J. Simpson) to introduce him at the ceremony. Of course, what this does reinforce, perhaps more than ever, is how tight Berman is with those who run the NFL. The announcer has taken some hit over the years, including here and here, for his perceived chumminess with athletes and coaches. It's clear that long ago he made a choice between access and objectivity, and that's fine. Unlike some in the sports media and sports blogosphere, I don't advocate the guy being booted from the airwaves. He should stay on the network for as long as ESPN wants him, but where I feel insulted as a viewer is when ESPN assigns him to interview NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or coaches when significant news develops. It's simply hard to take an interviewer seriously when potential subjects such as Wilson publicly claim "we've been friends and friends for years."