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Playing hide and seek with ice skating fans

By SHARON GINN
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 11, 2002

Forced by NFL scheduling changes to move the telecast of the women's final round of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, ABC decided to keep it in the family. ABC Family, that is.

Unfortunately, the network has treated it more like a family secret.

Anyone hoping to catch up-and-comer Sarah Hughes or evaluate Michelle Kwan's Olympic chances live Saturday night will have to turn to ABC Family (formerly Fox Family) from 8-11. ABC planned to air the women's and pairs' free skates live, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and NFL scheduling changes meant skating would conflict with NFL playoff coverage.

It had to be moved, but that doesn't explain why it ended up where it did, or ABC's lack of promotion. Oddly, though Al Michaels plugged the ABC Family skating broadcast during Monday Night Football this week, network public relations employees did not include the broadcast on a news release about the U.S. championships. Instead, the network promoted its Sunday 3-6 p.m. tape-delay broadcast of the free skates. Spokesman Mark Mandel called the omission an "oversight."

Apparently, the network cared just enough about keeping the rights to the women's final to decide not to do the logical thing and offer it to ESPN, which like ABC and ABC Family is Disney-owned.

Mandel said the network chose to put it on ABC Family "in part because of the makeup of ABC Family, and the makeup of figure skating. ... It's a natural fit."

ABC Family is available in 84-million homes, 2-million fewer than ESPN. But people are not used to turning to ABC Family for sports, and many still might think of it as Fox Family, which it was until late last year. Even Mandel said, "Don't look for this to be a trend or anything like that."

The thought here is ABC is hiding it in plain sight in hopes of reaping a ratings benefit Sunday afternoon, live or not. Hey, tape-delay worked for NBC at the Sydney Olympics ... oh, wait. It didn't.

SEE YA, CNNSI: CNNSI is no more, according to the Associated Press. Employees were told Wednesday afternoon that the network will be replaced with one operated with the NBA. The network's focus would be on sports events and not news, with several live NBA games a week plus other NBA-related programming. It was unclear Thursday what was to become of the approximately 200 employees of CNNSI.

RAYS OR BOLTS?: Clear Channel and the Rays are talking about moving games from WFLA-AM 970, a news-talk station, to sports-talk station WDAE-AM 620. But 620 also has a contract to air Lightning games through this season. Adding the Rays would cause conflicts not only in April when the season starts, but down the road if the station were to secure radio rights for both teams, program director Brad James said.

James also said he doesn't expect fallout from a confrontation Tuesday night between WDAE host Steve Duemig and Lightning coach John Tortorella during a postgame interview. The aggressive and accusatory line of questioning about Pavel Kubina was a "stupid incident," James said, but "I don't think it will hurt the relationship (with the team) at all."

NFL RATINGS: Monday Night Football ratings finished down 11 percent from last season's all-time low. For the seventh straight year, Fox led the NFL ratings and won the battle of the pregame shows, but CBS made some gains. Adding Deion Sanders gave a boost to CBS' NFL Today; its ratings were up 4 percent from last season.

FINE TUNING: TNT's original movie about MNF and the Howard Cosell days, Monday Night Mayhem, premieres 9 p.m. Monday. ... Keith Olbermann got another job this week, as a contributor to CNN's News Night with Aaron Brown.

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