Smizik on TV: Budget concerns curtail TV stations

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The excitement generated by Pitt's Big East tournament championship and the fourth seed that performance earned the Panthers in the NCAA tournament has not carried over to sports departments of the local television stations.

Of the four local stations that cover sports, only WTAE is making the trip to Denver to cover the Panthers in their first-round game this afternoon with Oral Roberts and, if they win, a second-round game Saturday.

KDKA, WPXI and FSN Pittsburgh will not have reporters on the scene. FSN will carry live the postgame news conferences involving coach Jamie Dixon and his players after the game today and, if Pitt wins, after its second game. It also will have live coverage of the news conferences for West Virginia after its game today against Arizona.

Budgetary constraints often dictate what a news outlet -- both print and electronic -- can do. At this time of year, with so much going on, stations are forced to pick and choose.

KDKA, for example, was the only local station to cover the Big East tournament in New York. It also was the only one not to send a reporter to cover spring training. It marked at least the fifth consecutive spring training KDKA has missed. FSN has a full-time presence in Bradenton and does daily reports. WTAE had Guy Junker at Bradenton, and WPXI had Bill Phillips. Both reported for several days and came back with additional interviews that ran at later dates.

The absence of KDKA in Denver is particularly noteworthy because it is a CBS affiliate and the tournament is carried by CBS. Usually, stations give priority to events they and their network carry. For example, KDKA is top heavy with Steelers programming, partly because the Steelers are the No. 1 team in town and partly because KDKA carries their games as a CBS affiliate.

KDKA even goes so far as to send Bob Pompeani to Hawaii for the run-up to the Pro Bowl, a game that holds limited interest for Steelers fans.

The fact the Penguins are readying for a playoff run plays a role in determining coverage of other sports by the stations. The Penguins figure to be a must-cover for the local stations and considering how deep that run might go it could become quite expensive.

"Budget is always part of the consideration," said WTAE news director Bob Longo. "But these are big stories of high interest and there are many viewers who want to see us cover them."

Lange a non-subject

With FSN under new ownership, going from Fox to Liberty, and under a new general manager, going from Steve Tello to Ted Black, it seemed appropriate to check on the status of Mike Lange. He was fired as play-by-play announcer on Penguins telecasts after the 2006 season and was replaced by Paul Steigerwald, the Penguins radio voice. Lange then took Steigerwald's radio job.

Black preferred not to get involved in a discussion.

"Paul Steigerwald is under contract and I will not have a public discussion of someone under contract," he said.

Black said nothing more should be made of his reluctance to discuss the subject.

Penguins in HD

FSN is hoping to carry as much of the Penguins' playoff run in high definition as possible, but that decision is not totally within its control. Lining up the equipment for games done in HD can be a logistical nightmare. The fact the sites and dates won't be known until a few days before the first game compounds the problem.

The station is in the process of significantly upgrading its HD programming. The Penguins went from 10 games two years ago, to 25 last season and to 36 this year. There will be 75 Pirates games in HD this season.

"We want to do them," said FSN executive producer Shawn McClintock of the hockey playoff games. "But it's not like we can press a button and get it done. We're getting as much work out of the way now, but until we know when and where the games are we can't do much."

Calling a good game

Initially, it was surprising to see the team of Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery in a secondary role to Dan Shulman and Len Elmore at the Big East tournament. But not after hearing the telecasts.

The McDonough team did the afternoon games the first two days then disappeared. The Shulman team did the night games for all four days.

McDonough and Shulman are excellent play-by-play men and Bilas is at or near the top among analysts. But the McDonough, Bilas, Raftery team was more concerned in engaging in a seemingly never-ending stream of sophomoric putdowns of each other that not only were stupid and boring but also took away from the telecast.

Shulman and Elmore, who's no match for Bilas, were workmanlike and concentrated on calling the game. The audience was better served by having them do the most important games.

As for Raftery, his presence on big games remains baffling. His trademark, a staccato burst of often undecipherable words, must be OK with the network but they are annoying and childish.

Short takes

• Pompeani was way ahead of the competition in reporting the Ben Roethlisberger contract. He broke the story at 6:30 March 2, hours before anyone else in the print or electronic media had it.

• Elmore will be doing Pitt games this weekend. He'll team with play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson to do all the games at the Denver site of the NCAA tournament.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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