CBS Games May Air on Cable

Times Staff Writer

Kids tuning into Nickelodeon next Thursday or Friday to watch cartoon shows such as "Hey Arnold," "Rugrats" or "SpongeBob SquarePants" might get an NCAA men's basketball tournament game instead.

"Blind Date" and "Star Trek" on the National Network (TNN), and "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Leave It To Beaver" on TV Land might also be preempted by tournament games.

It's all part of a contingency plan CBS has been working on. If the U.S. is at war with Iraq during the NCAA tournament, news coverage will probably take precedence over the college basketball tournament.

CBS, which is owned by Viacom, might move live games to three of its sister cable networks, although, nothing is certain.

"We do not have an agreement with TNN, TV Land or Nickelodeon," CBS Sports president Sean McManus said Tuesday. "We're still in the preliminary talking stage. We would have to come up with a deal that makes sense to everyone."

McManus said other Viacom-owned networks such as MTV and VH1 wouldn't be involved, but that Disney's ESPN might be an option.

ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said there had been talks.

"The sole purpose of us being involved would be to serve the fans as well as our partner, the NCAA," Krulewitz said. "It would be a difficult situation because of our many programming commitments, including the women's NCAA tournament."

ESPN is scheduled to televise all 63 games of the women's tournament.

There are 16 games each on the first two days of the men's tournament, March 20 and 21. There are eight games each on the following Saturday and Sunday.

"The first two days of the tournament would be the most critical," McManus said. "It gets less complicated after that."

CBS televises games regionally during the early rounds. In the first two days, four games are being televised simultaneously to different parts of the country. Cable channels such as TNN, Nickelodeon and TV Land, cannot regionalize, although TNN might be able to carry two games simultaneously because it has East and West Coast feeds.

Also, the cable channels would not be able to switch from one game to another, which has become a mainstay of early-round coverage.

The lack of regional coverage might not be as big a factor in Los Angeles this year as in other years, since no Southern Californian team, besides maybe UC Irvine, is expected to make the tournament.

Lower ratings probably would result in CBS' having to go to news coverage and rely on its cable sisters to cover some of the tournament. In that case, McManus said, any shortfall would have to be made up to advertisers with "make-goods," free commercials.

DirecTV could benefit if war coverage preempts the tournament. The satellite service offers as many as 37 games during the first three rounds as part of its $50 pay package, "Mega March Madness."

Asked about the Masters golf tournament, which CBS will televise the second week of April, McManus said no thought had been given to any contingency plan.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World