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XFL makes sense to NBC's Ebersol

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 2, 2001


When pro wrestling/marketing guru Vince McMahon announced last year he was teaming with conservative NBC to build a football league with attitude, it seemed an odd collaboration. But to NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, his network's $50-million investment in the XFL makes sense.

"All of us in network television see Saturday night on prime time as a failure," Ebersol said. "There hasn't been a legitimate hit of any kind there since Golden Girls. The star performer across America is Blockbuster Video. ... In many ways, this is the ultimate TV reality show when reality shows are pretty popular."

The reality, though, is that fans of the XFL probably will be nothing like fans of the Golden Girls. Therein lies a potential problem: Will the young men whom advertisers covet even be home to watch on Saturday nights?

The league debuts at 8 p.m. Saturday. The edginess McMahon has been promoting fits well with the other networks showing games, TNN and UPN, but how it fares on NBC will be the key to the league's success.

Ebersol stresses that games will be suitable for family viewing, but he does add there will be a "good dollop of Vince's mischief around the edges." An example is one of the XFL's commercials, starring Palm Harbor resident Carol Grow, who is serving as the league's "roving reporter."

During the spot, Grow -- a swimwear model, fitness personality and wife of former Florida Gator Monte Grow -- enters an XFL locker room dressed in a football uniform and strips down to bra and panties. Other mischief will involve miking the players, which CBS learned at the Super Bowl was not such a good idea considering players tend to swear a lot before and during games. Ebersol promises a five-second delay will erase the R-rated words.

"You get an awful lot of interesting stuff," Ebersol said. "Conversations not only along the sideline, but listening to the player in the huddle, listening to the quarterback in the huddle with a lineman who just blew his block. ... Usually (those are) things interpreted by announcers."

Cameras will be everywhere, including in the locker room at halftime. Sideline reporters will wander the stands to chat with fans. Expect campy antics with cheerleaders.

FINE TUNING: Now in the golf business, CNBC will air its second Senior PGA Tour event, the Royal Caribbean Classic, from 6-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Ratings for the network's first event two weeks ago (MasterCard Championship) were 71 percent higher than ESPN's coverage of the event a year ago. ... ABC marks Black History Month with a special at 1 p.m. Saturday, Raising the Roof: Heroes of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. The one-hour documentary profiles several black athletes, including tennis legend Althea Gibson, Magic Johnson and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. ... Fox Sports Net airs the NASCAR special Steel Thunder at 9 p.m. Sunday. It will look at NASCAR history, marketing and technology and the Richard Petty Driving Experience. ... HBO debuts its one-hour documentary Do You Believe in Miracles?: The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team at 10 p.m. Monday.

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