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April 05, 2014

Media column: Major TV changes for Final 4, MLB; Local radio changes; Personnel moves


Two over-the-air changes will be ushered in this weekend, both of some historical significance by broadcast standards:

### For the first time, the national semifinals of a Final Four not only will be televised on cable, but on multiple cable networks at the same time.

TBS will carry a traditional broadcast of Saturday’s games as part of a joint partnership with CBS, a move that continues a decade-long migration of some of sports’ marquee events from free television to cable.

It already has happened with Monday Night Football, the NBA conference finals, one of Major League Baseball’s League Championship series, and most recently, college football’s national championship game.

And now TBS will air two of the three Final Four games, with CBS televising Monday night’s championship. That will be the case in 2015 also, barring a change.

Beginning in 2016, TBS will air the entire Final Four every other year, alternating with CBS.

And there will be a twist to Turner’s coverage this weekend.

Whereas TBS will show a traditional broadcast, TNT and TruTV will air simultaneous telecasts from the perspectives of the teams competing, with different announcers who will be encouraged to show bias. (No kidding.)

For example, TNT will air a Gator-flavored broadcast of the UF-Connecticut game, with Orlando Magic (and former UF) announcer David Steele and longtime Gator Basketball Network analyst Mark Wise on the call. Former Heat guard Rex Chapman will be the analyst on the Kentucky-flavored broadcast of the Kentucky-Wisconsin Final Four semifinal on TNT.

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said “you could see” more of this type of approach in the future.

CBS and TBS have combined their best talent on the Final Four since their partnership began in 2011, and that will continue this weekend, with Steve Kerr and Greg Anthony joining Jim Nantz on the game call.

The big on-air talent change will be Turner’s Ernie Johnson serving as host, instead of longtime Final Four host Greg Gumbel, who will assume a lower-profile role.

Because Johnson is Turner’s signature host, “we thought it made sense to have Ernie be the primary host on Saturday, and to make a change halfway through [on Monday] didn’t make much sense,” McManus said.

CBS moved the tip-off time of the championship game from 9:30 to 9:10 p.m., with a pre-game show at 8:30.

### For the first time this century, baseball’s World Series rights-holder will begin a season without Tim McCarver as its lead analyst.

Former big-league second baseman Harold Reynolds and Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci replace McCarver alongside play-by-play man Joe Buck on Fox’s lead announcing team, beginning with a Dodgers-Giants game on Fox Sports 1 at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s never easy to replace an icon, the greatest baseball analyst of all time,” Fox Sports president Eric Shanks said. “[With]… Harold and Tom, there’s a ton of upside here. I hope people give this a chance before we make a judgment.”

Verducci will become the only person who wasn’t a former player, coach or manager serving as a lead analyst for a major network on any of the major sports. In fact, he will be only the second non-player or coach to ever work as an analyst in the booth for a World Series. Howard Cosell was the other.

“This is a natural progression for me,” Verducci said. “This is my 33rd year covering baseball. I [have] institutional knowledge.”

Buck said he was “blown away” by Verducci’s aptitude for the job when they did practice games together. Buck said it would have been a two-man booth if Verducci hadn’t displayed a relevant perspective different from Reynolds’.

As for Reynolds, he continues his career comeback after being dropped by ESPN in 2006 after a sexual harassment complaint against him. He also will continue to work for MLB Network.

Both analysts weighed in on the Marlins before the season started. “I think they have a chance to make a big move,” Reynolds said, adding he expects them to contend by next year.

Said Verducci: “They are a lot closer than people think. They need to convince Giancarlo Stanton that this is a place close to winning.”

### Fox has shifted much of its Saturday afternoon MLB package to Fox Sports 1. Fox will carry games on eight Saturday nights in May, June and July; four Saturday afternoons in September, as well as a league championship series and the World Series.

### McCarver hasn’t retired, incidentally. He will announce 30 St. Louis Cardinals games this year for the team’s cable rights-holder.

### WINZ-940, in its first year as the Marlins rights-holder, decided not to air a call-in show after games.

### Personnel moves: Curtis Stevenson, at least on an interim basis and perhaps longer, will replace Greg Likens on Joe Rose’s WQAM-560 morning show. Likens took a job as host of the Dolphins-owned weekday program on WINZ-940, which has been expanded an hour to 4 to 7 p.m.…. CBS hired former Dolphins quarterback Trent Green as an NFL game analyst… Noted college football writer Bruce Feldman left CBS for Fox.

NBC lured Good Morning America co-host Josh Elliott from ABC and will give him a role on Triple Crown races, the French Open and the Olympics. And he will do interviews and features for NBC’s NFL pre-game show… Michael Strahan is in line to become co-host of ABC’s GMA, according to the New York Daily News, but Fox said that will not affect his position on the network’s NFL pregame show.