WEEKLY MEDIA COLUMN
If there’s one thing you can count on with the NBA on television, it’s turnover and instability in the ABC/ESPN studio.
Both networks keep tinkering and tinkering, hoping to create a chemistry and dialogue to rival TNT’s rollicking studio show, which has won five Emmy awards thanks largely to Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith.
Despite annual changes to the cast, the results never seem to quite measure up to ABC’s expectations.
This season, gone are Magic Johnson (his choice, not ABC’s) and Michael Wilbon, who was removed from ABC’s studio so he could focus on co-hosting ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption and handling other assignments.
Doug Collins, who resigned last spring after three seasons as 76ers coach, will fill Wilbon’s chair on the ABC set.
And ESPN anchor Sage Steele was promoted this past week after Magic’s departure, as ABC/ESPN essentially replaced its most prominent analyst with Steele, a natural host who will serve as a traffic cop – a task handled awkwardly by Wilbon and Jalen Rose in recent years when they weren’t spewing opinions in their analyst role.
Steele and Collins will join Rose and Bill Simmons in ABC’s studio (beginning on Christmas) and on many of ESPN’s Friday night studio shows (beginning with Heat-Nets Friday).
The Johnson departure was unexpected; he called ESPN officials Oct. 9 and told them he wanted to focus on his Dodgers ownership and other business ventures and did not have to time for television.
### ESPN’s other big change: Doris Burke, who has capably handled sideline reporting and game analyst assignments, will join ESPN’s Wednesday night NBA Countdown in a hybrid host/analyst role, teamed with Rose and Avery Johnson.
### Collins, who has done mostly game analyst work in previous stints as a broadcaster, will be a game analyst on 10 Wednesday games and a studio commentator on 10 Friday ESPN games and nine Sunday ABC games, then work in the studio throughout the playoffs.
“I’m through coaching,” Collins said by phone this week. He left the rebuilding 76ers because “at this stage of my life, I didn’t want to go through all those losses. Another big part of it is my son [Chris] becoming head coach at Northwestern.”
Collins spoke to TNT, his previous employer, but Turner didn’t have an opening.
FYI: He picks the Heat to return to the Finals.
“You have to try to punish them when they go small,” he said. “They don’t want to play LeBron James on a power forward; they want to put him on the opponent’s best player, like [Indiana’s] Paul George.
“Teams match down and go small against them, and their small team is better than your small team. So you have to try to stay big against them and hope your big guys are better than theirs.”
RAMSAY STEPS AWAY
For the first time since 1990, Hall of Fame coach and former Heat TV analyst Jack Ramsay won’t be calling games this season. Ramsay, 88, decided to step away from broadcasting, largely because of health reasons and also because he had grown weary of the travel.
Ramsay, who has battled cancer several times in the past decade, said he is “doing well” in dealing with his latest health scare, which he declined to disclose.
“I am doing well within the limits,” he said. “My doctors expect me to be around a while. But I can’t be confident of my medical situation. I wouldn’t want to start broadcasting and not be able to do it all the way through. I will miss it. But I will find things to do.”
Ramsay, who keeps himself in immaculate shape, has been riding his bicycle five to seven miles every day in Ocean City, N.J., and regularly swims 100 strokes.
On the Heat’s chances of a three-peat, Ramsay said: “I would still favor them, but Dwyane Wade needs to play at his best level” for that to happen. He said Chicago is best-equipped to beat Miami.
AROUND THE DIAL
### Tim McCarver, who's working his 24th and final World Series, has told Fox he doesn't want the network to make a big deal of his departure and was somewhat hesitant to discuss it on a conference call this week.
"I'm elated I've lasted this long," he said. "Fox has been terrific throughout in understanding what I want. The person I'm going to miss most is [broadcast partner] Joe Buck."
### Nationally, World Series ratings are up slightly over last season's Giants-Tigers Series. The first two games have averaged a 6.4 locally, placing Miami-Fort Lauderdale 49th of 56 metered markets.
### Will Manso, lead sportscaster at WPLG-Channel 10, will succeed Jorge Sedano as Sun Sports’ studio host on Heat road games. Sedano gave up the gig (and his WQAM-560 talk show) to join ESPN Radio.
Jason Jackson will continue to handle the studio gig for home games and sideline reporting for all games.
### There were several reports this week that the NFL will consider splitting its Thursday night package between NFL Network and another cable network. Turner, FS1 and NBC Sports Network are the likely contenders. That could generate more than $600 million in additional revenue for the league, especially if a wild card playoff game is included in the package.
### When Chris Mullin joined the Sacramento Kings as a consultant this summer, ESPN quickly ended his employment. But TNT sees no conflict in retaining Shaquille O’Neal, who purchased a minority interest in the team. TNT isn’t carrying any Kings games this season.
A quick update on the Mike Miller/Heat squabble that we detailed in the last post:
Miller is angry his attorney told the Herald on Thursday that Miller is strongly considering a lawsuit against the Heat.
But Miller did not say Friday whether he would go ahead with the lawsuit. His attorney was prepared to file the suit immediately, but that is now on hold, perhaps for good, as Miller re-thinks what he wants to do.
With Miller’s authorization, his attorney, Andrew Fine, has drawn up a complaint against the Heat after settlement discussions with the team stalled in recent weeks.
In the complaint, which I obtained, Miller alleges that a Heat sales executive who is no longer with the team introduced him to Haider Zafar, who allegedly defrauded Miller.
Fine said previously that Miller lost $1.7 million in the scam, and that Zafar used $700,000 of the money stolen from Miller to pay for Heat season tickets.
Fine has said that Miller has asked the Heat to return that money. The Heat employee, Stephen Weber, is no longer with the team.
Miller said Fine was not authorized to tell the Herald that he was considering a lawsuit.
“I regret the unauthorized information shared disclosing a potential lawsuit and my private business dealings in the recent news reports,” Miller wrote in a text message to The Associated Press. “The Heat has always supported me and my family and we are grateful for our relationship with the team and its owners. They have given me and my family more than we could have ever asked for and for that I am so thankful!!”
Fine, who had believed as late as Thursday that Miller likely would file the lawsuit, declined to comment Friday. Another attorney who handles some of Miller's other interests did not respond when asked if Miller would file the suit.
Another associate said Miller doesn't want to deal with this at the moment. Miller was comfortable pursuing the matter behind the scenes but didn't like the publicity the story generated Friday, the associate said.
Meanwhile, the Heat has invited Miller to attend Tuesday's opener for the purpose of receiving his championship ring and is awaiting a response.