Cast to Type

March 05, 2001

The sportswriter never gets the girl. The sportswriter never
solves the crime. He never files his story and then rides off
into the sunset. FBI agent Clarice Starling stalks serial killer
Buffalo Bill; the sportswriter lurks next to the locker room
stall of Buffalo Bill Doug Flutie.

On television, sportswriting is most often depicted as comedy,
not drama. Think Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) in The Odd Couple,
Slap Maxwell (Dabney Coleman) in The Slap Maxwell Story, Tony
DiMeo (Tony Danza) in The Tony Danza Show, if you must. The
latest incarnation is Ray Barone, who, as portrayed by Ray
Romano, mixes punch lines with deadlines on CBS's highly rated
Everybody Loves Raymond.

"Oscar Madison's the closest to the real thing," says Detroit
Free Press columnist Mitch Albom of the incurable slob in whose
bedroom laundry ferments like overripe cheese. "Jack Klugman
didn't invent getting mustard on your tie. That already went with
the territory."

Albom isn't only a sportswriter, but he's also host of The Mitch
Albom Show (MSNBC, weekdays, 3 p.m.), a talkfest. Moreover, he is
one of the few real sportswriters to have been portrayed on TV
(by Hank Azaria in the ABC TV movie Tuesdays with Morrie, based
on Albom's 1997 best-seller). Albom thinks TV's view of his
profession is cockeyed. "Sportswriting is better fodder for drama
than it is for comedy," he says. "In real life you often have a
situation in which well-educated, middle-income, middle-aged
people record the exploits of younger, wealthier and usually
less-educated people. That's more poignant than it is funny.
There's conflict there, and that's what you want in dramas."

There's plenty of conflict in the aforementioned sitcoms--domestic
conflict. Madison, who shares his abode with finicky friend Felix
Unger, is divorced, as are Maxwell and DiMeo. Ray Barone bickers
good-naturedly yet incessantly with his wife, his parents and his
brother. Sure, everybody loves Raymond, but does anybody like
him?

Another common element: Rarely are sitcom sportswriters shown at
work. "Here's the scene I would write," says Albom. "Baseball
writer typing on deadline. Computer breaks. After a few panicked
attempts at fixing it, he gives up. Hurls it from the press box.
It lands on home plate, shattering. At the sound of the crash,
the other writers look up. For a moment they regard their
colleague in distress. Then they resume typing."

Sounds Oscar-worthy.

--J.W.

"Oscar Madison's the closest to the real thing," says Albom of
TV's sportswriting fraternity.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)