Sunday, May 21, 2006

PRIME TIME SPORTS

None of the other TV writers seem to care about this, but since I'm a big sports fan I might as well share some of the changes that are coming with prime-time sports coverage in the fall. In short, all the action has moved to the weekends, it seems.

On Friday nights, the new CW network will have Friday Night Smackdown! on again. Okay, okay, wrestling is not a sport. But TSN up here in Canada seems to think it is, and so does The Score. Anyway, the top wrestling series on network television is back for another season.

On Saturday nights, ABC will be turning over this ghetto of prime-time programming into a night of college football. They will be showing 12 weeks of college football on Saturday nights, culminating with the Big 12 championship game. They were sort of doing this anyway, showing games on Saturday nights, but now it will be a regular part of the schedule every week on ABC. Besides, they need a prime time sports series on ABC to replace Monday Night Football, which is now on ESPN.

Finally, Sunday Night Football will be on the air on NBC beginning this fall. This promises to be the premiere prime-time pro football package as NBC, in conjunction with the NFL, will be able to pick the seven most promising matchups in the final weeks of the season and show them in prime time. So if a game has playoff implications it will get bumped to prime time and NBC will show it, so we'll be spared from seeing all these meaningless late-season prime time games that we used to see on ABC and ESPN. They have a great crew lined up with Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth and Jerome Bettis in the studio and the legends Al Michaels and John Madden in the booth again. The last time NBC had the rights to the NFL, they carried the AFC games virtually forever, so this will be quite a departure from what they used to do. They're going to make an event out of it, which is great.

I think it's terrific that NBC is covering major sports again, and about time, too. Everyone got fed up watching their crummy arena football games and junk sports every weekend. Last week, they even carried poker! And who can ever forget the XFL. Thank heavens, they are finally covering some real sports again like the NHL and the NFL.

Of course there are other prime-time sports events planned for the networks. FOX of course will turn Octobers over to prime-time coverage of the baseball playoffs and World Series. FOX and CBS should also have plenty of late-season and playoff NFL football coverage in prime time, and CBS will have March Madness as well. FOX also has the BCS rights for the first time (replacing ABC), while NBC will show the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time this June. ABC, of course, has the NBA finals again and some playoff games in prime time, plus that golf challenge event that Tiger Woods usually has on a Monday night during the summer. So quite a few changes in store with respect to sports coverage in prime time in the USA.

One thing to watch out for, the FOX baseball contract ends at the end of this season so there might be changes on the horizon to the baseball package if another player decides to go after the rights, such as ABC or NBC. Both those networks carried baseball for the longest time. The betting is that FOX will retain the rights, though, especially since NBC spent like crazy to get the NFL rights back. We'll see.

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