In his 13 months as a KABC-TV Channel 7 sportscaster, Todd Donoho has become the man critics love to hate.
He's been blasted for delivering his sportscasts while standing in front of a video screen, for beginning and ending his segments with a trivia question, for commentaries opening with "Take a hike," and for a manner that led one critic to write that Donoho, "comes on like a three-alarm fire and is about as enjoyable."
To Donoho, the whole controversy is a creation of sports television columnists.
"It's funny how a five-second trivia question at the beginning of a sportscast can create so much furor among sports media critics," Donoho said. "The furor comes from some print journalists who believe a trivia question shouldn't be on the top of your sportscast.
"Do you think a shoe salesman, accountant or doctor watching analyzes that stuff? The only people who analyze that stuff are sports media critics. If you try to please them and do things the way they think is right, you'll be out of a job."
Viewers apparently hold a far more charitable attitude toward Donoho.
While it is difficult to gauge his impact independent of other factors, KABC's 11 p.m. newscast has moved closer to long-time leader KNBC Channel 4 in the highly competitive ratings race since Donoho succeeded Jim Hill on it last July. And "Monday Night Live," a sports trivia program he hosts, was renewed for a second season; it returns tonight following a National Football League preseason game between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills.
Donoho came to KABC-TV after four years with the sports arm of the Financial News Network, a nationwide cable service headquartered in Los Angeles. He began his career in Grand Rapids, Mich. before moving to WLWT, the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati. He admits to having been a more conventional sportscaster before joining KABC.
"I was a TelePrompTer-reading, condescending sportscaster in Cincinnati," Donoho said. But he has adopted a more relaxed style since then.
"I just have a philosophy that people would rather have sports talked to them, instead of read to them," he explained. "Reading is very condescending. Conversation relaxes people more. Therefore, I try to always present an ad-libbed, extemporaneous, conversational sportscast every night only because I feel people would rather have that."
Donoho noted that he is not the only member of the news team to stand during a broadcast.
"Look at weathermen--they stand up and are very conversational," Donoho said. "All their weather presentations are very conversational, they are very visual and tell the story."
What about the trivia? His detractors say that with only about 3 1/2 minutes generally budgeted for sports, Donoho's questions are a waste of time.
"To ask and answer the trivia question probably takes 10 seconds," said Donoho, who also poses trivia questions as part of his weeday morning sportscasts on "The Mark and Brian Show" on KLOS-FM (95.5). "That 10 seconds is my way of getting in one more piece of information. The trivia question almost always is about something that happened that day or is relative or timely.
"We have the trivia question instead of idle banter/happy talk/chit-chat between news anchor and sportscaster. You'll notice that on our show they go, 'Here's Todd with sports.' If anything, the 10 seconds is one more fact and figure and a little bit less happy talk."
"Monday Night Live" was another target of the critics, coming under fire almost immediately after its debut last Sept. 11. KMPC's acid-tongued sportscaster Jim Healy called it "The Gong Show of Sports." Financial News Network filed a lawsuit, charging copyright infringement of "Time Out for Trivia," a show Donoho had hosted on FNN. In its filing, FNN called "Monday Night Live" clumsy, humorless and tasteless.
Donoho declined to discuss the lawsuit, which proved to be unsuccessful, but he dismissed the importance of critics.
"I'd rather have good ratings than have critics like it and have bad ratings," he said. "The ratings are what keep the show coming back because that means people like it. No matter what you want to say, ratings mean that people watch and like the program, and that's what counts."
"Monday Night Live" will air after all "Monday Night Football" games, both in the preseason and regular season. An edition following the Super Bowl is also planned.
There will be two additions to the program this season: a studio audience and sports-related comedians appearing each week. Gabe Kaplan, the "Welcome Back, Kotter" star who now hosts a sports talk show on KLAC-AM (570), is scheduled to be tonight's guest.
"Monday Night Live" has aided the shows following it, "MacGyver" and the 11 p.m. edition of "Eyewitness News." Before "Monday Night Live," Channel 7's post-"Monday Night Football" programming lineup was at the mercy of the length of the games, which would often run past their scheduled 9 p.m. conclusion. "MacGyver" and the local news therefore would start at unusual times, rather than on the hour.
But the flexible nature of "Monday Night Live"--it can be a shortened to whatever portion of the time before 10 p.m. is available--has allowed the station to start "MacGyver" and "Eyewitness News" at their normal times.