Come February, sports fans may get the feeling that some of the TV programming they most enjoyed in 1976 is missing. The thing missing most, of course, will be the Winter Olympics, which were the subject of perhaps the finest job of production, direction and announcing ever put on the air. In a year during which the three major networks presented 1,275 hours of sports, ABC's coverage of the Winter Games surpassed everything else, and of all the feathers in Roone Arledge's Tyrolean hat, none is any brighter than the one for those 43½ hours from Innsbruck. In the second annual presentation of the Leggy Awards for sports broadcasting, ABC receives the prize for the Best Coverage of a Single Event.
The rest of 1976's sports telecasting was filled with lesser highs, a lot of lows and some notable absences. Mainly because of the lack of a network contract, the American Basketball Association died during the year, and CBS canceled soccer after only two games. Al DeRogatis packed up his Xs and Os this fall and left NBC and. thankfully, there was less seen of Evel Knievel than at anytime in recent memory. There were 33 boxing bouts on the networks, many of them horrendous mismatches, and tennis ratings got zapped by oversaturation. Ah, but Madison Avenue loves tennis and golf because, the admen contend, they appeal to the elite, and the elite must be served. Someplace at this very moment, some packager is probably developing a show entitled Inner Polo, starring Nelson Rockefeller, Paul Mellon and the ghost of J. Paul Getty.
The big TV Executive Suite story of the year is still developing in Moscow, where all three networks are bidding for the 1980 Summer Olympics. And how they are bidding. To obtain the rights to the Mexico City Games in 1968. ABC paid $4.5 million; the price shot up to $18 million for Munich in 1972 and to $25 million for Montreal. The figure for Moscow in 1980 is likely to be more than $60 million. Whoever gets that contract—and the lucky winner should be announced any day now—should be given a special "Diamond Jim" Brady Award, emblematic of a high place among 1976's other awardees:
WORST COVERAGE OF A MAJOR SPORT—ABC for undistinguished camera work and poor announcing on Monday Night Baseball.
December 20, 1976
TRUE GRIT AWARD—To General Manager James T. Lynagh of WTOP-TV in Washington for continuing to carry games of the NHL Washington Capitals, despite the Caps' rock-bottom ratings during the past two seasons and the team's 1-27-3 record in games that have been televised.
NIELSEN'S TOP IO (ranked by number of viewers)—Super Bowl X (CBS); Muhammad Ali-Richard Dunn fight (NBC); NFC championship, Dallas vs. Los Angeles (CBS); AFC championship, Pittsburgh vs. Oakland (NBC); Rose Bowl (NBC); World Series, Game 4 (NBC); World Series, Game 3 (NBC); World Series, Game 2 (NBC); Summer Olympics, July 27 (ABC); Orange Bowl (NBC).
LEGGETT'S TOP 10 (ranked by personal preference)—Winter Olympics (ABC): World Series, Game 2 (NBC); Olympic Track and Field Trials (ABC); NCAA Basketball Championship Game, Michigan vs. Indiana (NBC); Super Bowl X (CBS); World Series, Game 4 (NBC); recap of the third Ali-Joe Frazier fight (ABC); The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola, Oct. 17, which portrayed umpires as opera singers (NBC); Summer Olympics, afternoon of July 31 (ABC); Softball game between National and American League players to raise money for research on sickle-cell anemia (CBS).
WRIEST OBSERVATION—NBC's Gene Shalit, on Man About Anything, discussing the proliferation of postseason college football games: "Remember when there was just the Rose Bowl? Now there are more than 20 bowl games. The Orange Bowl is played in Miami. If the Midshipmen from Annapolis had been good enough, it could have become the Naval Orange Bowl...Jacksonville has the Gator Bowl, which the loser calls a croc...Wichita Falls has a Pioneer Bowl. Before the game, the coaches psych up their players: 'We're in the Pioneer Bowl—go out there and fix their wagons'...How about two teams of cotton farmers playing in the Weevil Bowl?"
MOST OVEREXPOSED AND OVERSAID—Nadia Comaneci; shots from blimps; punt, pass and kick contests; Jim McKay; The Superstars; tennis; Renee Richards; "on the money"; "on the numbers"; "on the board"; "on the season"; Alex Karras; "at the top of the show"; Hilton Head; Leroy Nieman; Bruce Jenner; and descriptions of "the Wall" at Fenway Park, one more of which will have all of us ready to climb it.
DANCING BACKWARDS MADLY—CBS Radio for being bright enough to put a show called Women in Sports on the air five days a week, and being sharp enough to have Liz Shanov produce it, then being silly enough to have only male announcers on it.
AND REMEMBER YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST—McKay of ABC telling his Winter Olympics audience that downhiller Franz Klammer's gold-medal run would be repeated on tape the following evening: "It's something which should not go unnoticed a second time."
BET YOU CAN'T—Name the sport and the winners of any two of the following events that appeared on television in 1976: Alan King Classic, Louisville Classic, Island Holidays Pro Classic, Volvo Classic, American Classic, Westchester Classic, AMF Pro Classic, ITA Pro Classic. Memphis Classic. Aloha Classic, Duke Kahanamoku Classic.
THE BEST ANNOUNCER—Dick Enberg (NBC) for his broadcasting of NCAA basketball and the Ali-Dunn fight.
THE MOST IMPROVED ANNOUNCER—Phyllis George (CBS).
MOST MEMORABLE CAMERA WORK—ABC for keeping its lenses on Americans Edwin Moses and Mike Shine, who finished 1-2 in the 400-meter hurdles at the Montreal Games, as they took their victory lap and looked up at themselves on the huge TV screen inside the Olympic stadium; CBS for its end-zone shot showing Cardinal Terry Joyce's punt being blocked in the Dallas-St. Louis game on Thanksgiving; NBC for utilizing its center-field cameras throughout the World Series to show that the Yankee outfielders could not throw as well as Charlie's Angels.
BEST NEW SERIES—The Olympiad (PBS).
BEST CONTINUING SERIES—The Way It Was (PBS).
AMAZING GRACE AWARD—To Dick Button of ABC for covering all those Lutzes, Salchows and camels-into-flying-sit-spins during the figure skating at Innsbruck with feeling, clarity and poise that put other athletes-turned-announcers to shame in 1976.
You AIN'T COME THAT FAR, BABY AWARD—TO Billie Jean King of ABC for trying to put the World Wristwrestling championships from Petaluma, Calif. into perspective by saying: "It's the World Series, Super Bowl and Wimbledon all rolled into one."
A WEEK ON GILLIGAN'S ISLAND—To anyone who can recall who had the best backhand in the Macdonald Carey-Ben Murphy vs. Jim McKrell-Howard Duff doubles match on Celebrity Tennis.
HI-YO SILVER AWARD—To NBC's Grandstand for showing Ivanjica's win in the Prix de I'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, then cutting away when the horse pitched Jockey Freddy Head to the ground, thus leaving the viewers to wonder if the rider was alive or dead and if the horse was running loose through the streets of Paris.
CORRECTIVE SNEAKER AWARD—To Wonder Woman star Lynda Carter for doing acrobatics in harness on The Battle of the Network Stars and never landing correctly.
SHEER GALL AWARD—To Atlanta Braves President Ted Turner, who also just happens to own TV station WTCG (Channel 17) in Atlanta, for issuing $1 million free-agent Andy Messersmith uniform No. 17, then persuading him to wear the word Channel—instead of his name—above the number.
PUBLIC DEFENDER AWARD—To Commissioner and lawyer Bowie (No Overcoat) Kuhn, who assumed that his job entitled him to prevent Howard Cosell, a sometime critic of baseball, from announcing baseball's championship series on ABC.