CBS Can Bring Up Low Grades With Biggest Test Today

CBS has scored poorly on technical merit at the Winter Olympics with coverage that too often is disjointed and confusing, although it has done better in artistic impression with some fancy camera work.

Now comes the meat of the lineup and you just hope CBS is up to the task.

It's a rather unusual double main event--forechecking and high sticking in the morning, lace and grace at night.

The two marquee events, worlds apart in their appeal, will appear 12 hours apart on your television screen today.

Live at 8 a.m. comes the semifinal hockey match between the United States and the Unified Team. Then, delayed at 8 p.m., is the women's figure skating freestyle program, which actually begins only 2 1/2 hours after the start of the hockey match.

If the U.S. upsets the Unified Team in hockey, the championship game will be shown live in the East Sunday at 8:15 a.m. but probably delayed one hour, to 6:15 a.m., in the West.

CBS hasn't made a final decision, but it's doubtful the hockey would be shown at 5:15.

The other semifinal match today, Canada vs. Czechoslovakia, will be televised live by TNT, beginning at noon.

Katarina Witt, on center stage as a competitor in 1984 and '88, has been doing commentary from the CBS broadcast center in Moutiers, which is about 20 minutes away from the competition in Albertville.

This setup, designed to make her more comfortable, also gives her less exposure. But Witt, on a conference call with reporters Thursday, wasn't complaining.

"It seems like I'm working very hard, running around like crazy," she said. "Exposure doesn't concern me."

Although Witt was critical of Surya Bonaly after she almost hit Midori Ito when she did a back flip in practice, Witt otherwise has been reluctant to criticize the competitors.

"I know what they've been through to get here," she said. "But when I saw something that was wrong (the Bonaly flip), I stood up and said it."

But when Witt was questioned on the air by Tim McCarver about her own intimidation tactics during practice, she said with a laugh, "No, no, no, no, no."

A reporter's question during Thursday's conference call drew a similar response.

"What does it feel like to be an American sex symbol?" was the question.

Witt's answer: "Aye, aye, aye, aye, aye."

Scott Hamilton, the on-site commentator, told reporters last week that he, too, is reluctant to criticize the competitors.

Dick Button, a figure skating commentator for every televised Winter Olympics prior to this one, has a different philosophy.

"You have to distinguish the good from the bad," he said from New York this week before heading for France. "I'm a fan of 18th- and 19th-Century architecture. Before I could recognize what is good I had to be educated about what is bad."

Button, who won figure skating gold medals in 1948 and '52, was late getting to Albertville because he was in Cancun, Mexico, last weekend to tape the "Superstars" series, which will be carried by ABC throughout April.

Button is the creator of the series, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Magic Johnson's decision to become a commentator is a good one for him, a good one for NBC and a good one for viewers.

Johnson is not taking his new career lightly. At least once before his first assignment March 8, Johnson will get together with Dick Enberg at NBC in Burbank for a practice run.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, during a press conference this week to promote his one-on-one, pay-per-view game against Julius Erving on Feb. 28, said he's leaning away from a possible comeback.

Earlier, Abdul-Jabbar said that if he fared well against Erving, he might come back and donate a portion of his salary to AIDS research and the Magic Johnson Foundation.

"I didn't realize I was stepping into a political minefield," Abdul-Jabbar said. "A team that signed me would have a lot of explaining to do.

"My primary reason for thinking about a comeback was to help Magic."

But now he's come up with a different way to help his friend. A percentage of the gross from the pay-per-view telecast will be donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research and to Magic's foundation.

Erving's Philadelphia-based charity organization, the DJ Group, is promoting the Feb. 28 event. Originally, Erving wanted to match Abdul-Jabbar against Wilt Chamberlain.

But Chamberlain told Erving he hadn't had a basketball in his hand since he retired, and he planned to stay retired.

The public might have been willing to spend $19.95 on Abdul-Jabbar vs. Chamberlain. Abdul-Jabbar vs. Erving is a tougher sell.

An undercard that has Rick Barry facing off against Connie Hawkins and Nate Archibald playing George Gervin will help.

A couple of days before Jose Canseco rammed into his wife's car last week in Miami, he taped a lengthy interview with Roy Firestone. It was played in two parts on "Up Close" this week.

At one point, Canseco told Firestone he wouldn't want to be another human, but he wouldn't mind being a bird.


"There are no reporters up there," Canseco said.

Firestone brought in sportswriter Ken Gurnick, a regular contributor, to update the Canseco story. Gurnick said Canseco's representatives will attempt to settle the matter out of court but might fail because of the criminal aspects of the incident.

Although Gurnick said Canseco has his good qualities, he also said, "Jose seems to have gone the way of Pete Rose and Mike Tyson. Because of their celebrity status, they don't think they have to follow the same rules the rest of us do."

TV-Radio Notes

The Winter Olympics, which drew a 22.8 rating Wednesday night, are averaging a 19.2 through the first 12 nights. ABC was averaging a 19.1 at the same juncture in 1988. . . . More importantly, CBS has won 11 of the 12 nights. No network has ever done that. . . . Channel 9 will televise another Magic Johnson special Saturday at 9. First there was "It's Magic," then "More Magic," and now an encore to "More Magic," which will spotlight last Sunday's retirement ceremony. . . . KMPC announced Thursday that the "Jim Harrick Show" will be broadcast every Monday, 7 to 8 p.m., beginning next week. The UCLA coach will take calls from listeners.

Jose Canseco will be back on television Saturday night, competing in a $100,000 home-run hitting contest against Cecil Fielder. The event, taped at Dodger Stadium Feb. 9, is part of the "Fox Summer Games Special," to be televised on Channel 11 at 9 p.m. Jim Palmer is the host. Canseco hits one shot 435 feet into the left-center pavilion. . . . Also on the show is a volleyball spiking contest, with Sinjin Smith, Randy Stoklos, Tim Hovland and Adam Johnson competing. It was taped Feb. 1 in Hawaii.

The Quarry name is still a big draw in boxing. Bobby Quarry, the 28-year-old brother of Jerry, fought Tommy Morrison on ESPN last Sunday and drew a 3.4 cable rating, one of the highest in the history of the Top Rank/ESPN series. The rating peaked at 4.8, meaning the fight was being watched in more than 2.4 million homes. . . . A replay of the recent Larry Holmes-Ray Mercer fight will be shown on the USA network next Tuesday at 9 p.m. . . . The rematch of one of the best fights of 1991, Azumah Nelson vs. Jeff Fenech, will be televised on Showtime Feb. 29 from Melbourne. Their previous fight ended in a controversial draw. Most observers thought Fenech won.

After returning home from Indianapolis, where he was covering the Mike Tyson trial, the first thing ESPN's Charley Steiner found in his mail was a jury summons. . . . XTRA has decided to pick up John Hernandez's call-in show, "Thoroughbred Weekend." It will run Saturdays, 7 to 8 a.m. Hernandez and partner Bruno DeJulio did "Thoroughbred Nightly" for KORG from October, 1989, to December, 1991.

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