Viewers are creatures of habit. When they want sports news, they watch "SportsCenter."
The show has been around for a long time, it's reliable and well-produced, and although there has been some tweaking and upgrading, there hasn't been much change in format over the years.
"We've got a lot of tradition and history," says John Walsh, the show's longtime executive editor. "And our people are always pushing themselves."
Besides its stability, "SportsCenter" has all of ESPN's resources behind it -- ESPNews, ESPN Radio and ESPN.com.
Fox Sports Net and CNN/SI have discovered just how difficult-and costly-it is to put a dent in the "SportsCenter" stronghold.
CNN/SI recently told staff members it would cease operation in May, and Fox Sports Net last week said it was dropping its "National Sports Report" after Feb. 10.
Fox Sports Net's news division isn't exactly running up a white flag, but it does appear to be retreating.
It will emphasize local sports news at the nine regionals networks it owns, including the two in Los Angeles, and national sports news will be delivered in periodic updates. The plan is to eventually expand local news shows, such as the "Southern California Sports Report" to one hour and incorporate national news in those shows.
That makes sense. What doesn't is to have so many updates.
Under the new format, there will be two an hour-at nine and 39 minutes after the hour-throughout the night except during games. And there will be four an hour during "The Best Damn Sports Show Period," but that's OK. They'll give viewers a break from Tom Arnold.
But think how intrusive the news updates will be during "The Last Word With Jim Rome." Worse will be the interruptions during the "Beyond the Glory" documentaries.
By the time viewers get through a commercial break and an update, they will have forgotten what they were watching.
Tracy Dolgin, Fox Sports Net's president, conceded that updates may work better on some shows than others.
"It's something we've been debating," he said.
But, in general, he is sold on delivering national sports updates.
"We've done exhaustive research and what we've learned is that 62 percent of our audience is made up of moderate sports fans, as opposed to hard-core sports fans," he said. "And moderate sports fans want their sports news delivered more frequently in headline format."
Dolgin added that he hopes the updates will also draw new viewers, who will like what they see.
Still, it seems most viewers will not like the intrusive updates.
They'll just click over to "SportsCenter," the real best damn sports show period.
In this space last week, CBS' Billy Packer ripped into a "60 Minutes" report about the NCAA's treatment of athletes and a coalition that is seeking reforms. Packer thought the piece, reported by Lesley Stahl, was misleading and inaccurate, and he didn't pull any punches in saying so.
Rome Hartman, who produced the segment, said, "The story was not about whether student-athletes should be paid. It was about a question of fairness and hypocrisy, questions like, 'Should an athletic scholarship cover the full cost of attendance?' "
Hartman said another key issue in the piece dealt with the lack of health insurance coverage during voluntary workouts, which really aren't voluntary.
Hartman called Packer a great basketball commentator, but added, "He just has a blind spot when it comes to college athletics."
The women's final of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night, relegated to the ABC Family Channel, still got a solid 3.4 national cable rating, which translates to a 2.7 rating for all homes. ABC's repeat on Sunday got a 4.3 national rating. By combining the 2.7 Saturday night rating with the 4.3, you get a 7, which beats the 6 rating ABC got for last year's women's final. ... ESPN's new three hours of Sunday night programming, running from 8-11 p.m. and called "The Block," makes its debut this weekend. Featured Sunday at 8 is the beginning of a 13-episode series that follows the North Charleston Lowgators of the NBDL, the NBA's new developmental league. The featured show on Jan. 17 will be something called "The World's Sexiest Athletes," presented by the magazine Us.
Recommended viewing: It will be "NFL Greats Week" beginning Monday on A&E's "Biography." The series will feature, in order, Frank Gifford, Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Vince Lombardi and Joe Namath. The shows are produced by NFL Films. ... If you're looking for something to get you in the mood for the Winter Olympics, there's an entertainment special on NBC Saturday at 10 p.m. Also, a DVD of HBO's outstanding documentary, "Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team," is available in stores.
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