During 1975 the three major television networks devoted more than 1,100 hours to sports, an average of three for every day in the year. And advanced schedules indicate there will be even more in 1976; about 500 hours will fill the lenses of ABC alone. Despite this extensive coverage, television is not likely to have the impact on sports in 1976 that it did in '75. Hockey, supposedly one of the booming sports of the '70s, expired as a television attraction last year because NBC found the ratings woeful. NHL franchise owners lost $6 million because of the network's decision to drop their game. The ABA came close to gaining a national TV contract, but the last-minute failure of its negotiations with the networks has left it on the edge of collapse. The WFL did fall apart, largely because television gave it neither money nor exposure.
The most lamentable trend in TV sports in '75 was the proliferation of "made for television" events. The phony shows brought to mind Edith Wharton's remark, "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." Televised sport is best when it reflects, and, thank goodness, ratings compiled by the A.C. Nielsen Co. indicate that viewers still prefer real sports. Of the 10 top-rated telecasts in 1975 (through Dec. 26), NBC, the network that puts the heaviest emphasis on live productions of genuine events, put on eight. The others were also true sports events, the Muhammad Ali-Ron Lyle fight (ABC) and the Cotton Bowl (CBS). The top 10 were, in order, Super Bowl IX; World Series, Game 7; World Series, Game 6; the Rose Bowl; World Series, Game 5; World Series, Game 3; the Orange Bowl; World Series, Game 4; Ali-Lyle; and the Cotton Bowl.
But ratings often do not reflect the quality of programming. Thus, I hereby announce the first annual Leggy Awards for sports broadcasting, covering a number of categories that will not be mentioned when the Emmys are presented in May.
BEST COVERAGE OF A SINGLE EVENT: World Series, Game 6 (NBC), for its camera work and replays; the final round of the Masters golf tournament (CBS), for capturing the drama at Augusta and for the absence of verbosity by its announcers; the Mideast regional finals of the NCAA basketball tournament (Kentucky vs. Indiana on NBC), for excellent game coverage and for adding a human-interest touch by occasionally focusing on Indiana Coach Bobby Knight and his wife.
WORST COVERAGE OF A SINGLE EVENT: the second game of the championship series between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh (NBC), during which Announcers Joe Garagiola and Maury Wills talked too much and the network failed to keep up with the Boston-Oakland playoff game in progress at the same time; George Foreman vs. the Five Dwarfs (ABC), the year's most absurd hype, for allowing Muhammad Ali to use air time to promote his upcoming fights; the Foolish Pleasure-Ruffian match race (CBS), for too much showbiz nonsense preceding Ruffian's fatal injury.
MOST OVEREXPOSED AND OVERSAID: Howard Cosell; Caesars Palace; Curt Gowdy; 60-second tours of college campuses; Joe Garagiola's stories about the 1952 Pirates; Rotunda, Fla.; the Kilgore Rangerettes; weigh-ins of Ali fights; Islip, N.Y.; "Here's the replay, you be the judge."
BEST REPORTING ON SPORTS: 60 Minutes (CBS) and its interviewers, Mike Wallace and Morley Safer, for segments entitled "War on Ice," "The Summer of '76" and "Snow Job in Florida?" which covered violence in hockey, the muddled U.S. Olympic program and a man trying to build an Olympic site in Clearwater, Fla.
BEST ANNOUNCER: Jack Whitaker (CBS).
BEST ATHLETE-ANNOUNCERS: Pat Summer-all, football (CBS); Rick Barry, basketball (CBS); Dave Marr, golf (ABC).
WORST ATHLETE-ANNOUNCERS: Oscar Robertson, basketball (CBS); John Unitas, football (CBS); Jackie Stewart, auto racing (ABC).