By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000
If the goal for Fox Sports Net was to get Regional Sports Report up and running this week, the mission was accomplished.
The nightly show debuted at 11 p.m. Monday with not an overwhelming amount of pizazz, but it was a solid presentation. There were highlights of the Marlins and Devil Rays, an interview with Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt and a profile of Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke.
It was safe and a respectable effort for the first day. But if the Regional Sports Report is going to command our attention, it has to push the envelope. With 30 minutes, it has the time to present longer features on an array of topics and go beyond the norm.
Granted, there is a relative lull in sports, but when the action picks up, the goal should be blending information and highlights with the kind of features only this show can present.
With so much more time compared to local sportscasts, it's a great opportunity to perhaps showcase the home of Warren Sapp, or give us an idea of what it's like to go out on the town with the Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier.
Nothing should be deemed too off the wall or far out. Local sportscasters cramped in the world of three-minute sportscasts would love to have a 30-minute nightly show. Sage Steele, who is covering Central Florida for the show, was on the right track when she not only profiled Bucs strength coach Mark Asanovich Wednesday night, but actually engaged in one of his grueling workouts.
North Florida reporter Mike Nabors delivered on his Weinke feature, but he missed a great opportunity when he visited Vince Carter's youth camp in Daytona Beach. Sure, labeling Carter a role model and showing him interact with the kids was fine, but Nabors failed to ask him about the $13-million breach-of-contract judgment against Carter that was handed down this week.
Even if Carter declined to comment, it could have been mentioned by the anchors coming out of the feature.
The other part of the show that needs to be enhanced is the chemistry between Ned Smith and Keith Lebowitz. We have to think that the banter between the two will flow with more ease in coming weeks, but now it seems rather stilted.
Lebowitz gaffed when all he could muster about Carter was a, "Wow, what a player." I think we know Carter is a good player.
Overall, the Regional Sports Report can't be afraid to go outside the boundaries on occasion, and it can't worry about being too sophisticated. If you're attracting the hardcore fans who don't get enough from the local shows, it's not a mistake to offer theme-oriented features and more detailed discussion.
THE THROWBACK: Fox Sports Net will debut the Keith Olbermann Evening News Aug. 6. It's a weekly show described by Olbermann as a throwback and a hybrid of other sports shows. He hopes to mix highlights, analysis and in-depth interviews into a 60-minute presentation that can compete with ESPN's Sunday night baseball and football broadcasts.
Olbermann will continue to host Saturday's Fox baseball coverage, but will no longer anchor the National Sports Report. It seems to some as a lateral move and a concession Olbermann is not delivering the big ratings expected.
But Fox Sports chairman David Hill said moving Olbermann to his own weekly show always was in the offering.
KEEP TRACK: NBC continues coverage of the track and field trials on Saturday at 1 p.m., but Sunday's 7 p.m. broadcast is the one you don't want to miss because of the expected battle between Michael Johnson and Maurice Greene in the men's 200-meter final.
Said analyst Dwight Stones: "Michael Johnson-Maurice Greene is the biggest showdown by two American athletes on U.S. soil since 1971 when Marty Liquori and Jim Ryun raced in the "Dream Mile' at Franklin Field."
FINE TUNING: Monday Night Countdown returns to ESPN Monday at 7 p.m. with 30- and 60-minute editions through August, moving to its 90-minute format beginning Sept. 4. ESPN2's NFL 2Night, the network's NFL news and information program, will return to its five-nights-a-week schedule beginning Tuesday. ... Sunshine Network will partner with Orlando's WQTM-AM 540 for a morning radio program. The co-hosts will be Pat Clarke and Charles Davis, who recently was hired to work on Sunshine Network Live. ... Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel returns Monday with segments on Barry Bonds, Laila Ali and former Blue Jays manager Tim Johnson.