Is TV set big enough for Barkley and Vitale?
by Michael Hiestand, USA TODAY Sports
This might scare basketball purists and intrigue viewers who see TV sports as show biz. Either way, get ready: Two of the biggest names associated with their networks, ESPN’s Dick Vitale and TNT’s Charles Barkley, might call TV basketball together — including NCAA tournament action.
CBS has previously asked ESPN if it could use Vitale on its NCAA tournament coverage. ESPN has declined, saying, in effect, that Vitale is a franchise player.
But John Wildhack, ESPN executive vice president for production, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday that “we are interested” in letting Vitale and Barkley call action together.
Wildhack wouldn’t specify whether he meant just on NCAA action, or some package of games that might include TNT’s NBA or ESPN’s college games. But if it’s a package that includes Barkley on ESPN, says Wildhack, “We wouldn’t need a play-by-play person.”
The principals are already sold.
“With the NCAA, I would love to call a game with Dick Vitale,” Barkley told USA TODAY Sports. “That’d be something I’d really like. I’ve talked to Dick about it. We’re all in the same business of promoting the tournament. We all need to forget the ESPN, CBS, TNT stuff — we’re all in the business of promoting college basketball.”
Asked Tuesday about the chance to work with Barkley, Vitale seemed even more psyched: “I’d love to do a game with him! He’s terrific! We’d have so much fun on the telecast.”
And, no doubt, generate lots of rants in cyberspace about how TV coverage is just supposed to be about the players and coaches. Which might have made sense years ago, before networks began collectively paying billions in rights fees for games they have to turn around and sell as TV shows.
CBS and TNT parent Turner Sports now jointly cover the NCAA tournament. And Tuesday, they responded to the idea of using Vitale on it with a joint corporate statement: “There have been no discussions and we’re very pleased with our CBS/TNT announcer lineup.”
But CBS might just consider using Vitale to be a “no-brainer.” That’s how CBS Sports chief Sean McManus put it in 2006. McManus used the phrase … [For more on Hiestand: Is the TV set big enough for Barkley & Vitale?, click here.]