2002: Media - USA’s new studio show: Clean slate to berate

By Chris Hodenfield

I’ll never forget the day when I auditioned to be a TV film critic. It was a swift instructional into the world of the camera and it told me what a special skill it is to get up there and act naturally.

So, despite all the hellish indictments I deliver in this space, I do admire the way performers actually get up before the camera and face the inevitable insults. Because, boy, people do give them a hard time, no question. For instance, Brian Hammons, The Golf Channel’s reliable anchorman. I have never met him. But I feel I have. Don’t you think you could just call him up and put the arm on him for 20 bucks till payday? That must happen to him all the time in sports bars.

And I say, what the hell is wrong with Brian Hammons that a trip to the haberdasher wouldn’t fix? (Some of his neckties I wouldn’t wear to a Tokyo pachinko parlor.)

The Golf Channel has carved out a distinctive place in our lives. But now the decision makers there might be looking over their shoulders. USA Network is readying a new hourlong show that will appear every Sunday (11 a.m. Eastern and Pacific, 10 a.m. Central) to provide a kind of build-up for the day’s final round, just as Fox’s pre-game shows trumpet the NFL. “PGA Tour Sunday” is to commence Jan. 12, before the final round of the Mercedes Championship.

You wonder what the show’s sense of style is going to be. You look at the new things the bombastic Charles Barkley has been doing on TNT’s NBA halftime shows, and you have to think, well, why not have a rude, arrogant blowhard offer commentary? Has USA thought of that?

You could find a few of those guys on the range at any tournament. (“Stayed tuned for the next thrilling chapter of ‘Getting Annoyed with Scott Hoch.’ Today, Scott finds a lot to be desired in the bottled water.”)

USA, which has invested heavily in golf for next year, with 31 weeks of broadcasts, up from 13, will be doing this show in partnership with PGA Tour Productions.

Curiously, PGA Tour Productions already does a weekly half-hour called “Inside the PGA Tour” that shifted to The Golf Channel. The production teams for the shows will be different, but the top banana of both shows will be the Tour’s high-energy VP for Strategic Development, Donna Orender.

With a clean slate for a new golf show, USA decided to bypass The Golf Channel’s former kingpin, Peter Kessler, who simply dominated that network until he picked up in a rules dispute this year. Kessler was smooth (a sportswriter I know, probably jealous, once snarled of Kessler, “You can smell his cologne through the TV set”). But, said Kevin Landy, VP of Sports Programming at USA, “Kessler’s very good, but we wanted to create a new breed of show.”

The new breed likely will be geared toward show business. They’ll keep enough of the scores and instruction to keep the serious fans in place, but if they can get an Arnold Schwarzenegger or a Matt Damon on the course, that’ll be cool with them.

USA’s reliable Bill Macatee will be around, and the anchorman will be Fran Charles, from a morning sports show in New York. The field reporters signed so far might give pause to the hardboiled golf fan: Dara Torres, a gold medalist Olympian swimmer, will chase celebrities; and Gabrielle Reece, the 6-foot-3 volleyball player, model and LPGA hopeful will chase golf stories.

Don’t you kind of hope they get some snarling old fart in there, too? Somebody who will stand up to all the guff?

Whomever USA gets in there, we’re all going to mock them and revile them and lampoon their inanities. That is, unless they get someone in there who sounds like Dad. I think, actually, that’s why so many of us miss hearing Pat Summerall. He sounded like Dad, and a few million of us associate golf with Dad’s voice. I’ll be watching Dara and Gabrielle. I’ll be listening for the old man.

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