Regional Sports Shows Get Mixed Notices

Like them, feel lukewarm about them or hate them, television critics and reporters who write and talk about the ambitious new Fox Sports Net Regional Sports Reports all seemed to have one thing in common: They liked the concept.

When it comes to the execution, though, opinions were as varied as the Regional Sports Reports themselves and the regions they cover.

Pluses mentioned were the regional focus; anchors and reporters who know the area; lengthy features not likely to turn up on the local news; and the potential for improvement.

Knocks mentioned were anchors who don't know the area; lack of depth; regional studios too far away from the market (for instance, the Detroit show comes from Seattle); too much effort to be cool; and production glitches.

Launching just one new show can be tough. Fox Sports Net launched 16 half-hour 11 p.m. shows from eight regional-news hubs in June and July, and started to roll out the early evening Sports Tonight in August.

This was a particularly daunting task, considering the fact that the project went from idea to execution within months.

Evan Tuchinsky, who writes a sports-media column for the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise, thinks some of the shows' problems stemmed from the decision to launch multiple shows in such a short time.

"I think it's a matter of starting broadcasts at the same time," Tuchinsky said, suggesting that doing so hurt the network when it came to hiring anchors and reporters. "You're not getting the cream-of-the-crop talent people right off the bat," he said.

However, he added: "It's not like it was dreadful. I'm sitting in Los Angeles, the No. 2 market, and you expect better."

When someone from Fox Sports questioned a critical column, Tuchinsky said he told him, "I wouldn't have written a 20-inch piece about something I didn't think had any merit. I think the concept is sound and they have some reasonably good people."

"If I were to give it a grade right about now, I'd probably say a C-minus," said The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Prentis Rogers. "I was not impressed coming out of the box." Rogers watched the Fox Sports South edition.

That C-minus, though, reflected his impression that the show is getting better. "I understand it's a work in progress," Rogers said, adding that he wants to see how the show handles college football this fall before giving it a final grade.

"I think when the real challenge will come in is when they have breaking news and need to give us more than we'll get at the national level," Rogers said.

He was disappointed by the show's coverage of the hunt for a new University of North Carolina men's basketball coach. "When they addressed that, they didn't give me more than I could've got" elsewhere, he said.

Rogers added that he can get sound bites from the new coach from the two-minute report on local news, but he expected more-like interviews with former players or recruits-from an in-depth report.

Richard Sandomir, who covers sports media for The New York Times, described the approach as "news lite" with attempts to be cool, to bind with the viewers-"We're all in this together," to show cool T-shirts.

He was not alone among observers noting the casual attire, which sometimes falls short of chic.

Sandomir so far sees little substance in the lengthier reports. "Maybe this'll be solved by September. It's like there's a slapped-together feel to it. I feel that at this point of the year, comparing a four- to five-minute regional report [segment] to one minute from [sportscasters] Warner Wolf or Len Berman, I get what I need from them," he added.

To others, the issues may be less about depth and more about carving out new territory.

In a July 21 column, Ernest Hooper of the St. Petersburg [Fla.] Times called the show's launch respectable but warned that if Regional Sports Report is going to command attention, it has to push the envelope. Nothing should be deemed too off the wall or too far out.

Hooper praised one reporter for not only profiling a strength coach, but participating in a workout, and he chided another for failing to ask Vince Carter about a recent major legal judgment against him.

Not surprisingly, the folks at Fox Sports Net were a little defensive about some of the criticism.

"We're doing a show that's never been done before, and I have to believe that it will, by definition, garner some degree of negatives," executive producer Milt Weiss said.

So far, the anchors have taken the most hits. "Every time somebody will watch an anchor on their first night, they want to instantly review it," Weiss said. "[The] first night is not a normal night."

Weiss made some adjustments to anchor teams in recent weeks, and he will continue to do so. But he said overall, it's a matter of giving people time to adjust.

"I've been very, very pleased that as best I can tell, everybody universally likes the concept," he added. "That's very positive."