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TBS takes its shots (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday October 10, 2007 1:40PM; Updated: Thursday October 11, 2007 6:28PM
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The teams of Dick Stockton and Ron Darling, Ted Robinson and Steve Stone, and Don Orsillo and Joe Simpson drew mixed reviews. "Listening to Ted Robinson and Steve Stone," said Boston Magazine, "was like relaxing with a pair of Ambien." It was strange that Orsillo, who calls Red Sox games for NESN, was assigned to the Phillies-Rockies series. (Behnke said TBS felt more comfortable keeping him away from the Boston series). The network executive called Darling's work "phenomenal" and the analyst (he calls Mets games for the SNY network) was added to the studio coverage for the LCS series. Good move.

Perhaps the biggest winner for TBS was comic Frank Caliendo. The promos for his upcoming Frank TV show ran about as often as a crosstown bus. But even with the over-the-top overexposure, at least Caliendo has television presence. The same cannot be said about studio analyst Frank Thomas, who morphed from the Big Hurt into the Big Cliché and made viewers long for another Auburn product employed by the same network. Thomas clearly confounded TBS officials. He was reportedly funny and engaging in the green room but when the red light came on, his commentary fell flat. Asked by host Ernie Johnson if the Yankees-Indians series would reach a Game 5, Thomas replied, "I like the momentum of the Yankees right now but this series is not over. If it gets back to Cleveland, it's a tough one to pick." (Thanks for going out on a limb, Frank.) TBS executives wouldn't say it on the record but it's a safe bet that Thomas will not be retained next season.

Of course, Thomas only had a short time to prepare for his duty. The TBS studio show was promoted around the star power of Cal Ripken, who started bland and timid but improved by the end of the Division Series. The low-key Ripken is never going to be Charles Barkley, but the hope is that he develops into a quality analyst along the lines of Kenny Smith. It's not a coincidence that Ripken looked much more at ease after Darling arrived on the set.

"I think he is growing into the role," Behnke said of Ripken. "For those who might be critical of Cal not being outspoken, Cal is as credible as they come." Of the current players who floated through the studio show, Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson provided energy and humor and gave the kind of insider perspective that viewers appreciate. One network senior staffer called him "a star in the making."

TBS now has the tough job of promoting the decidedly unsexy Diamondbacks-Rockies series, which begins on Thursday night in Arizona. The studio show will have a different look beginning with Game 3, when it will air live from Coors Field. "As soon as we were off the air on Tuesday, we were talking about how are we going to let viewers know who the Rockies and Diamondbacks are," said Behnke. "Our guys in the broadcast and pregame will be informing people of faces are that they may be not be familiar with. There will be mini-pieces and biographies during the course of the game."

Where TBS deserves plenty of credit is allowing the games to be the star. Unlike Fox, TBS did not bludgeon the audience with an overabundance of crowd shots or fan interviews. Much of the camera work was exceptional. The close-ups of insects feasting on the neck of Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain were so creepy that they could have been filmed by Wes Craven. For the most part, TBS did a nice job of letting the pictures work for them. Some of the graphics proved problematic, though. As SI's Tom Verducci pointed out, the Leadoff Line, the nine-foot arrow that measured the lead a runner gets off first base, overtly gimmicky and intrusive. Some SI.com readers complained that the graphic at the top of the screen showing how many runners were on base was too small. (To its credit, Behnke said that TBS adjusted it prior to the final game of the Indians-Yankees series by deepening the border and edgings.)

Look for the same graphics to return for the LCS -- the Leadoff Line is sponsored by Travelers, not that most fans would know -- including the addition of microphones placed in the bases. "It's always a work in progress and we are our own worst critics," said Behnke, who averaged four hours of sleep during the Division Series. "We have this package for many years but I would say this: We are overwhelmingly deeply proud of what we have done through the divisional series and I can assure you that it will only be better when we crank it up on Thursday."

So there's your next headline: TBS PROMISES TO CRANK IT UP ON THURSDAY. We'll find out then if that tells the story.

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