The three major television networks produced the equivalent of 50 full days of sporting events during 1977, some real, others imagined. More and more of them appeared in prime time, while rights fees climbed to heights bordering on the absurd. NBC paid $85 million for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The National Football League worked out a package with ABC, CBS and NBC, signing a $576 million agreement for the next four seasons. That contract alone will put 232 more football games on the air, not to mention a zillion commercials. It also provides a windfall of $5 million a team per season, far more than any club can take in at the gate.
Time was when network sports rarely showed up in prime hours, but now a week seldom goes by without an evening show involving some sort of thrashing around. Genuine events are fine, if genuine events are available. If not, the networks whip up and tape one of those celebrity stunt shows. Alas, they draw such strong ratings that they will proliferate even further. The participants are all starting to look like Gabe Kaplan. Most of the participants are Gabe Kaplan.
Television is a strange animal with a knack for getting caught in its own traps. It is currently rekindling an old love affair with boxing, a romance that once nearly killed that sport. And once again, it is too much of a good thing. Guys are fighting aboard aircraft carriers, in prisons, knocking each other dizzy on weekend afternoons—even waiting until 11:30 p.m. (EDT) to lace on their gloves. About the only two people who haven't fought on TV this year are Ferrante and Teicher. But in the spirit of the season, the rest of this column will be presented without commercial interruption. We take you now to the third annual Leggy Awards, a public-service presentation honoring those wonderful folk who brought you sporting 1977:
SELLING IT LIKE IT ISN'T Award—To ABC's advertising department for newspaper ads billing the Iowa-Iowa State football game "one of the toughest rivalries in the Midwest!" though the teams had not met in 43 years.
STEP BACK AND LET THEM FALL Award—To CBS for its contract with Howard Davis Jr., providing the Olympic lightweight champ with $200,000 a fight and the right to pick and pay his opponents out of that sum.
BEST ANNOUNCER—Jack Whittaker, of CBS.
BEST CONTINUING SERIES—College football on ABC.
WORST PART OF BEST CONTINUING SERIES—The inane halftime coach interviews, when ABC announcers stop coaches from running to or from their dressing rooms, thus causing dedicated fans to run to or from their refrigerators.
WHAT WAS THAT GAME AGAIN?—The Nations' Cup, the First World Championship of Motorcycle Jumping, the Burger King Open, Challenge of the Network Stars, Pizza Hut Classic, World Ski Flying Championship, Slam-Dunk Championship and World Championship Motorcycles on Ice.
LITTLE HORSE ON THE PRAIRIE Award—To ABC for its split-screen coverage comparing Seattle Slew with Secretariat during the Kentucky Derby telecast by using a slow 3-year-old race run by Slew and a fast 2-year-old race won by Secretariat—and never telling the audience that the Secretariat race had resulted in his disqualification.