Larry Rifkin believes in 7-foot-tall purple dinosaurs and 6'5"
college basketball centers. He can afford to promulgate his
unlikely creed: Time has proved him right.
Rifkin, 48, is executive vice president of programming at
Connecticut Public Television (CPTV). Nine years ago he rented a
video entitled Barney and the Backyard Gang for his daughter
Leora, who was four at the time. "I noticed how that video
mesmerized my Leora," says Rifkin, who has been with CPTV for 18
years. "I called one of the cocreators, Sheryl Leach, and asked,
'Have you ever thought of putting this on public television?'"
The rest, as they say in broadcasting and paleontology, is
prehistory. Three years later Rifkin made another noteworthy
find: the Connecticut Huskies' women's basketball team. "We began
by broadcasting the 1994 Big East tournament," says Rifkin. "We
had the serendipity of Rebecca Lobo and the 35-0 national
championship season a year later. Today UConn women's basketball
is the most popular PBS program in the nation on a local basis."
The top-ranked Huskies, defending national champs, regularly get
seven and eight ratings (each point equals approximately 16,000
viewers) in the Hartford/New Haven market. (CPTV airs every game
that CBS, ESPN or Fox does not.) The next-highest-rated PBS
program does well to register a three. Six times in the past two
seasons broadcasts of UConn games have ranked among the top three
programs in prime time for week. Outside of a Ken Burns
documentary, this is unheard of for PBS. "It doesn't matter who
the women are playing," says Rifkin, who notes that the Huskies
are 124-2 in their seven seasons on CPTV.
What, however, is the value of having a high-rated program on a
noncommercial network? "First, we can do pledge drives during
timeouts," says Rifkin. On Dec. 5, for example, viewers expressed
their "I love you, you love me" relationship with UConn by
pledging $24,000 to CPTV during a 77-53 nail-biter against Miami.
"Second, the Huskies give us an identity with our viewers."
That's true. At most PBS stations Big Bird is goofy, yellow and
nine feet tall. At CPTV the big Bird is a 5'9" junior point
guard named Sue. --J.W.
BOOKMARKING THE SITES
A new guide bids to be the bible of sports on the Internet
Larry Kehres, coach at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, has
the best winning percentage (.920) in NCAA football history,
while John Gagliardi of St. John's University in Collegeville,
Minn., has more wins (377) than any other college football coach
except Grambling's Eddie Robinson. On Saturday the Purple Raiders
play the Johnnies in the Division III final (ESPN2, noon)....
Directors should superimpose an R rating (for language) when
showing Steelers coach Bill Cowher chewing out his players; it
was all too easy to read his lips on CBS during Pittsburgh's
30-10 loss on Sunday to the Giants.
like the growing variety of ice cream flavors, the increase in
sports websites can be overwhelming. At some point, instead of
adding to our ever-lengthening list of bookmarks, we choose to
pare down to the vanilla, chocolate and strawberry links.
Editor-in-chief Rula Razek and her eight-person editorial staff
at Internet Cool Guide are here to refresh our palates. After
gazing at more than 2,000 sports websites, they have released
Internet Cool Guide: Sports (teNeues Publishing, $9.95), a
sports-web Zagat's to approximately 500 sites considered worth
logging on to. "The most important factors [in site selection]
were great content and ease of navigation," says Razek, 25.
Thirty-two categories--from the major sports to fantasy sports to
weekend diversions--are listed between the guide's bright-orange
covers. Each site receives a brief review, and those with
exceptional content, design, originality and customer service
have a C, D, O and/or S adjacent to their listings. Only six
sites earned as many as three ratings letters, among them
ncaa.org , explore.com ("a cool primer on the adventure sports
scene") and nike.com ("stunning visuals and loads of hand-crafted
pages devoted to the world's top athletes").
"I know how time-consuming the Internet can be," says Razek, who
also writes USA Weekend's "Where on the Web" column. "We've
surfed the sites that aren't worth your time so you don't have
to." If you're surfing anyway, you can find much of the material
that's in the book on internetcoolguide.com. --J.W.