Behind the Broadcast: ‘Wide World’ broadened television’s sports landscape

Friday marked a very important anniversary in sports television.

It was 50 years ago that AB


Random thoughts, notes and other observations as I try to catch up on some sleep after watching some great late-night Stanley Cup playoff games over the past week.

u Friday marked a very important anniversary in sports television.

It was 50 years ago that ABC spanned the globe to bring us the constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic compet­ition.

On that Saturday afternoon of April 29, 1961, “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” made its premiere. It changed the way we watched sports, and it showed Americans there were more offerings than baseball, basketball, football and hockey.

There was gymnastics, there was skiing, there was barrel jumping. And who could forget cliff diving from Acapulco?

This week, ESPN Classic has been celebrating the history of the show. I caught some of it, and it brought me back to the 1970s, when the show was a staple of late Saturday afternoons.

“Wide World of Sports” could be considered the forefather of today’s extreme sports, minus all of the loud music that accompanies the skateboard and snowboard competitors. “Wide World of Sports” didn’t focus on the major sports; rather, it gave us the soap box derby, weightlifting, dory boat racing, dune buggy racing and daredevil Evel Knievel.

It also gave us a memorable opening theme, and the one constant scene where ski jumper Vinko Bogataj crashed at the bottom of the jump and landed several feet below. This was the ultimate

“agony of defeat.”

Jim McKay was the host, and he took us to countries that most of thought we would never see. His interviews always brought out the human side of competitors.

Sadly, we don’t have that kind of show today. The Saturday schedules are occupied by either college football, college basketball, major league baseball, golf or informercials.

I doubt if we will ever see a show like “Wide World of Sports” again. And that is truly the agony of defeat.

u There will be a change in announcers when NBC Sports Group starts its Triple Crown coverage on Wednesday.

Monmouth and Gulfstream Park announcer Larry Collmus is the new announcer. He will call the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes for NBC. Collmus takes over for long-time announcer Tom Durkin, who opted not to renew his contract.

That was one of the announcements the NBC Sports Group made Wednesday. It will provide 27 hours of Triple Crown coverage, including 14 hours of Kentucky Derby coverage. It begins Wednesday with a look back at Smarty Jones, the 2004 Kentucky Derby winner, on “Derby Classics” at 4 p.m. That will be followed by the Kentucky Derby Draw at 5 p.m.

Laffit Pincay III, son of Hall of Fame rider Laffit Pincay Jr., Randy Moss and Jay Privman will help anchor the coverage on Versus.

Bob Costas will anchor the network’s coverage on race days. Joining him are commentator Tom Hammond, three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Gary

Stevens, analysts/handicappers Mike Battaglia and Bob Neumeier, reporter Kenny Rice and on-track reporter Donna Brothers.

u Speaking of Versus, I know that in interviews after announcing the 10-year deal with the NHL, NBC Sports Group chairman Dick Ebersol was interested in changing the name of the cable sports channel.

Frankly, I think Versus is the perfect name. Do you want something bland like NBC Sports Network? I don’t think so. Leave the name alone, Mr. Ebersol.

u FOX23 announced Tuesday that FOX Sports’ telecast of the NASCAR Sprint Cup STP 400 on June 5 will be seen on its digital channel, The COOL TV. The move is being made because FOX23 is televising its annual telethon to benefit the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center.

The COOL TV can be found on over-the-air digital channel 23.2, on Time Warner Cable channel 423, Mid-Hudson Cable channel 191 and Midtel Cable channel 271.

“FOX Fast Track” will include extended highlights of the race on the show that night at 11 p.m.

u ESPN announced this week that Ian Darke and Julie Foudy will be the lead broadcast team for the cable channel’s coverage of the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament. Their first match will be June 26, when Germany faces Canada.

u Here is some good NHL Stanley Cup conference quarterfinals TV ratings news.

Versus averaged 624,000 viewers. It was the most watched ever on the network, up eight percent from last year’s first round (595,000) and the most-watched on cable in 17 years. It was also the most-watched quarterfinals for key male demos in eight years, including the best among men 18-49 in a decade (2001).

NBC’s coverage was the most watched in seven years. The four games the network televised over two weekends averaged 1.9 million viewers, the most since ABC aired two total games averaging 2.0 million viewers in 2004 and up 12 percent from last year’s coverage (1.7 million).

u Finally, if you want more hockey, Versus will have the World Hockey Championships. It will televise the United States’ first preliminary-round game today at 10 a.m. against Austria.

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