•CBS recovered from a woeful first week at the Pan American Games (the second weekend's broadcasts at least kept moving, and meaningless baseball games weren't aired for half the afternoon), but its overall coverage remained uneven. Because the network's sports budget has been slashed (some say Tisched, after CBS board chairman Laurence Tisch), CBS has reduced the number of features that might tell the viewer something about the new stars emerging in the games. And the commentary cries out for some balanced international perspective.
Brent Musburger has covered the hard news well, such as the bleacher brawl involving the Cuban boxing team and anti-Castro activists, but in the booth CBS seems to have developed a serious case of ABC Olympicitis. First, some of the analysts, particularly those covering gymnastics events, might as well be wearing Uncle Sam costumes. Did the Cubans have a valid case for grumbling about the scores their gymnasts received? You would never know by listening to former U.S. Olympian Bart Conner.
Second, CBS tends to leave the viewer with the impression that an event is occurring live when it's actually being shown on tape. It wasn't until after Gwen Torrence of the U.S. was shown winning the women's 200 on Saturday that Dick Stockton announced by the by that the race had been run earlier.
To add some pizzazz to a meet that's trying hard to be more exciting than the U.S. Olympic Festival, CBS expects to use a mixed bag of buffoons, literati and glitterati as stringers at the games, including former ump Ron Luciano, George Plimpton and Bianca Jagger. Jagger, a native of Nicaragua, has as much to do with Pan American sports as Carmen Miranda.
•Tommy Heinsohn has been dismissed as the lead analyst for CBS's NBA games, apparently because of his blind defense of Robert Parish during the playoffs. The network wasn't overwhelmed by his work anyway, so when Heinsohn came across like a Celtic fan while criticizing the suspension of Parish for attacking the Detroit Pistons' Bill Laimbeer in Game 5 of the conference finals, his days were numbered. Heinsohn has been offered a secondary role, but he has not announced if he will accept it. His successor will be Billy Cunningham, the former 76er star and coach, who has to sever his ties with the NBA expansion Miami Heat after the '87-88 season ends.
•For proof that TV cannot always be trusted to provide solid journalistic coverage of an event, one need look no further than ABC's treatment of the '87 PGA. The major stories were that a fungus had eaten through many of the greens and that the midsummer Florida heat and humidity at Palm Beach Gardens were making for miserable playing conditions. ABC seemed to gloss over the greens controversy. As for problems with the site, Dave Marr's "interview" with PGA of America president J.R. Carpenter amounted to a short public relations pitch; few hard questions were asked, and Carpenter was allowed to wax eloquent about the attendance at the PGA National Golf Club.
•ESPN showed how rewarding candor can be in its NFL debut on Sunday night. Roy Firestone offered more unvarnished comments during the Bears-Dolphins game in Miami than the networks do in two months of games. The addition of a local-interest commentator (in this case ex-Bear Dick Butkus) didn't hurt. On the downside, Firestone's chitchat with Burt Reynolds in the booth was pointless.
•SHORTS: NBC is working with newly hired analyst Joe Namath to bring out his "lighter" side. Joe Willie is not exactly David Letterman, but Namath's partner, Marv Albert, and his producer, David Neal, insist that a Mr. Personality side of Namath is something that the panty hose, cologne and popcorn popper ads, as well as Monday Night Football, all neglected to bring out.... NBC's Merlin Olsen, who has lost a little sharpness as an analyst, will be brought into the studio for some NFL games this year. His replacement in the analyst's chair will be the more caustic Paul Maguire. Maguire, who just didn't cut it in the studio, also will play musical chairs with commentators Bob Trumpy, Joe Namath and Jimmy Cefalo.... NBC has renamed its pregame show NFL Live. The studio audience, which resembled the peanut gallery on the old Howdy Doody show, mercifully has been abolished.