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Television: Masters finish nearly perfect for CBS

Mon., April 13, 2009

Go figure: Matinee idol Tiger Woods tied for sixth but CBS still got lucky at the Masters.

CBS got two playoff holes Sunday – any overtime action helps TV sports ratings – and a sturdy story line in likable Kenny Perry, 48, aiming to become the oldest Masters winner. Which, conveniently, allowed CBS on Sunday to show famous Jack Nicklaus Masters highlights from 1986, when he became the oldest winner at 46.

CBS’ biggest break was its dream undercard – Woods paired with Phil Mickelson. They just happened to be teeing off as CBS began its coverage Sunday, so their shots mixed in with CBS’ Jim Nantz pointing out the “just spectacular” conditions. And that there was “a special day ahead.” And that spring is “mother nature’s annual gift of life.” And that he hoped “you’re watching with someone special to you. … Sunday at the Masters, it really doesn’t get any better than this.” (While multiyear contracts are the norm in TV sports, CBS gets the Masters only through one-year contracts. Meaning, Augusta National could always find another network. Maybe in under 10 minutes.)

CBS was understandably focused on, as CBS’ Nick Faldo put it, the “two gladiators swinging at each other.” Then, with what turned out to be about two hours left in tournament play, the network was left with just the rest of the field. Faldo, although he’d noted one missed Mickelson putt was an “unbelievable mistake,” concluded the pair had put on a “fantastic show.” They hadn’t really fallen short, he suggested: “They’re like two prize fighters who both fell down on the same punch, knocked each other out.”

Then, said Nantz, “It will be a little strange when they clear the green.”

But you can’t have everything. CBS’ Masters coverage can sometimes be overly fawning to the one sports event that proves event organizers needn’t always kowtow to broadcasters. Like the many references to fans as “patrons” – a CBS announcer, Jack Whitaker, was famously forced off Masters coverage decades ago by calling them “a mob” – and Nantz anticipating the “coronation” in “famed Butler Cabin.” But Masters coverage, for its reduced ad time alone, is always refreshing.

The Spanish-speaking Angel Cabrera, just as he did after winning the 2007 U.S. Open, gave his post-tournament interview through an interpreter – a nice change of pace. Otherwise CBS, in its sixth decade at Augusta, delivered the usual annual goods – reverence to a secular shrine.

P.S. ESPN’s CBS-produced Masters coverage on Thursday and Friday was up 8 percent from last year – and the highest weekday average since 2001.

New media: On its Houston-St. Louis game Saturday, Fox’s baseball coverage debuted Twittering from its announcers. Fox’s Joe Buck, in a tweet, showed how the evolving online medium can deliver true candor: “Cold in the booth in STL. Tim (McCarver) and I are bundled up. And snuggling.” And “sharing!” … Today in Chicago, ESPN will launch what could be the first of many – an ESPN Web site devoted to a single local market,

Spice rack: Given the old Yankee Stadium was the House That Ruth Built, Fox’s Buck suggested how the team’s new stadium should be known – “How about the house that the (Yankees’) YES Network built?” … Micah Grimes was fired 12 days after coaching his Texas high school girls team to a 100-0 victory in January. On ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” on Sunday, he explained why he never apologized – “because we did everything the right way.”

On tap: The NFL Network, says spokesman Dennis Johnson, will today announce that former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden will join the NFLN’s NFL draft coverage. Given Gruden worked the NFLN’s combine coverage, it looks like he has a TV gig if he doesn’t go back to coaching.

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