Why NBC Faces Halftime Music

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Watching what NBC has done with its halftime shows during the NBA Finals, you might wonder who came up with the half-baked idea.

Championship basketball isn't enough to sustain an audience?

Apparently not. The band Sugar Ray got its turn in the spotlight Friday, playing a song from its new album. Fittingly, the title performed was "When It's Over."

Sugar Ray is an Orange County band and lead singer Mark McGrath and drummer Stan Frazier told Channel 4's Fred Roggin before the game that they are big Laker fans and feared getting booed.

Destiny's Child was booed after its performance Wednesday night. The reason? Two of the singers where dressed in Laker garb.

Asked if they would be wearing Laker gear, McGrath said, "I may be dumb but I'm not ignorant."

As for scheduling entertainment acts at halftime, maybe it's not so half-baked after all. The goal is to attract young males, and it seems to be working.

Before Friday night's game, NBC's rating among men 18-49 was 20% higher for this championship series than it was for last year's. Overall, ratings are up 11%.

NBC's Cameron Blanchard said the halftime shows, a collaboration between NBC and NBA Entertainment, were designed to appeal to a diverse audience.

The shows weren't conceived after it appeared the final series might be a mismatch. They were planned months ago, Blanchard said.

NBC was behind booking U2 for Game 1 because it already had a relationship with the band. NBC had used the band's song "Beautiful Day" as the theme for its Olympic moments at Sydney.

NBA Entertainment lined up Destiny's Child and Sugar Ray.

Britney Spears reportedly was asked to perform if there was a Game 6, but she said no.

By late Friday, there was no act scheduled for a possible Game 6.

During halftime of Game 1, NBC went to a live U2 concert in Boston, which was a bit jolting and met with criticism from many.

The next time HBO shows a U2 concert, will it offer 10 minutes of an NBA game during intermission?

David Neal, the executive producer of NBC Sports, remained pleased: "There was a buzz for U2."

For the next two games, the halftime act was a two-part "Weakest Link" game involving people with ties to the NBA.

Cynics said this was nothing more than a blatant promo for the NBC show, but the "Weakest Link" halftimes drew more attention than any halftime analysis would have. Talk about a buzz.

What had a lot of people talking was that Bob Costas, undoubtedly the most intelligent of the five contestants, was the first one voted off.

Two years ago, Costas went on a "Jeopardy" and blew away Keith Olbermann and Robin Roberts, no intellectual slouches.

On "Weakest Link," Costas got three of four questions right, while Baron Davis, Lisa Leslie, Steve Jones and Bill Walton bombed.

And when Costas was wrong, it was on a trick question. He was asked to name a state that is home to three NBA teams. He said California and was amazed when he was told that was not correct.

Texas was the correct answer. Texas has exactly three teams--the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs. California has four--the Lakers, Clippers, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors.

"Well, until this year no one considered the Clippers to be an NBA team," Costas responded, although that comment got edited out.

Costas' other comments after being voted off were also edited out because of time restraints.

Costas was asked if he knew what his opponents' strategy was.

His response: "Let me get this straight. Bill Walton thinks Thomas Jefferson's picture is on the $20 bill, Steve Jones thinks Helsinki is in Sweden, Lisa Leslie thinks JFK was one of the Roosevelts, and Baron Davis doesn't know Alex Haley wrote 'Roots.' And you're asking me what their strategy is? I have no earthly idea?"

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