Something of an inside joke among TV sports people this summer is NBC's "live" studio show called 30 Rock. The name, which refers to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the New York City headquarters of NBC, is one of those slick Madison Avenue slogans that strive to be with it. Never mind that it means nothing to viewers west of Manhattan. The show, a mixture of scores, highlights and updates, purports to be the latest in live electronic journalism. In fact, whole sections are taped as much as an hour in advance. Why? Hosts Mike Adamle and Bill Macatee often need several takes to get their lines and smiles down.
30 Rock is Exhibit A of the kind of problem that Mike Weisman, who was named executive producer at NBC Sports in February, will have to solve if his division is to pick up the hunt against ABC and CBS. Because of such programming reversals as the loss of the 1980 Olympics when the U.S. withdrew from the Games and the NCAA basketball tournament's moving to CBS, NBC has long been mired in third place in the race for sports viewers. Weisman, 33, who only 12 years ago was an NBC page seating people for Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, is supposed to restore the Peacock's pride.
It'll be a feat worthy of Carnac the Magnificent. Besides missing out on the Olympics and the NCAA basketball tournament, two years ago NBC rashly sided with the College Football Association in its TV-rights dispute with the NCAA. When the NBC/CFA prime-time television plan collapsed shortly thereafter, ABC and CBS were left with college football, and NBC was left holding the megaphone. Except for Wimbledon, NBC has no prestige events on Sundays from mid-March until the end of this month. Its SportsWorld anthology consists of trashsports propped up by fights featuring brawlers and bleeders. Ratings are up only for golf.
Still, NBC Sports does have some things going for it. Two breaths of life came earlier this year when NBC Sports President Arthur Watson paid $575 million for half of the major league baseball package through 1989 and $6 million for soccer's 1986 World Cup—steep prices, but moves that will help fill the network's program cupboard. In addition, after losing several frontline announcers and executives over the last few years, Watson has signed such luminaries as Vin Scully, Merlin Olsen, Al McGuire and Tony Kubek to long-term contracts. Finally, he promoted Weisman, the wunderkind who had been coordinating producer for baseball since '79.
Weisman has the reputation of being a brash, try-anything innovator. "I saw a lot of me in him; he was aggressive, bright and had good ideas," says Don Ohlmeyer, Weisman's predecessor and now an independent producer. Having Morgan Fairchild introduce a boxing match and using a video "tracer" to plot the direction of pitches in this year's All-Star Game were controversial Weisman touches and possible harbingers of gimmicks to come.
Executive producers are responsible for hiring and firing talent and for the content and look of each program their shop airs. Thus, Weisman didn't push to extend new contracts to SportsWorld producer Hilary Cosell and NFL analyst Len Dawson. He's creating new NFL broadcast teams, matching Marv Albert with John Brodie, for example, and assigning Don Criqui to a new partner. He's revamping NFL '83, the Sunday pregame show, and—praise be!—deep-sixing the name 30 Rock. A transformed news and highlights show will replace 30 Rock next February.
Weisman is a much different boss than Ohlmeyer was. Whenever Ohlmeyer saw an opening by which he could expand his power, he flowed in like the Red Sea. By contrast, Weisman is the quintessential Mr. Nice Guy. "The first two months of the job I felt like Joyce Brothers, solving problems among people," he says. But it will take more than a listening ear and a pleasant personality for NBC Sports to snap back. Weisman will have to eradicate such snafus as the one that blemished NBC's telecast of track and field's World Championships from Helsinki last week. During coverage of the women's javelin finals on Saturday, the network told us to stay tuned for the decathlon later that day, even though anyone could see it being completed in the background. NBC also will have to reacquire the NCAA basketball playoffs or land the '88 Winter and Summer Olympics. As Weisman already can attest, nice guys don't necessarily finish last. Neither do they always come in first.