TBS truly goes national with national pastime, leaving Braves behind Print
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Friday, 28 September 2007 09:42
MLB Headline News

 ATLANTA (AP) -Chip Caray settles into his seat in the TBS booth, preparing to call another Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field. Sounds about right.
Only this time, he's got Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn right next to him. And this is actually a warmup for TBS' new game.
The cable channel that was built by Ted Turner and made its name by beaming virtually every Braves game around the country - sometimes twice a day, even when the team was one of the worst in baseball - is truly going national with the national pastime.
TBS will have exclusive coverage of all four division series, then move on to broadcast the NL championship series. Next season, the network will launch a ``Game of the Week'' on Sunday afternoons in addition to its playoff coverage.
What about the Braves? Well, they're being sent to the bench, closing down a remarkable era in baseball broadcasting.
``I have mixed emotions about it,'' Caray said. ``The transition from being a station that covered one team to becoming one of the broadcast partners for Major League Baseball is very exciting. It's a step toward becoming a true network.''
Then he thinks about his father, Skip Caray. And Pete Van Wieren. And Ernie Johnson Sr. And all the other broadcasters who devoted most of their professional careers to calling Braves' games on TBS - from the dark days of the 1970s and '80s when the team routinely finished last, to the glorious run that began in 1991 with the first of 14 straight division titles.
``My dad and Pete put 30 years of their lives into building TBS as the home of the Atlanta Braves on television,'' Chip Caray said. ``That's no longer the case. As my dad's son, it's disappointing that he's not going to be part of that and fans around the country won't get to see him or Pete.''
Starting next season, the Braves' local telecasts will be confined to the Southeast, shown on two of Fox's regional channels and the TBS-owned ``Peachtree TV,'' a new incarnation of the network's over-the-air signal in Atlanta.
Longtime locals will remember it as Channel 17, the obscure UHF station that Turner bought in 1970 and had the foresight to grow into the nation's first ``Superstation,'' beamed out across the country over that newfangled thing known as cable TV.
A few years later, Turner bought the woebegone Braves, who weren't very good on the field but did provide 162 days of programming. In the beginning, TBS seemed nothing more than bad baseball - shown live in the evening, then repeated in the early morning hours - and ``Andy Griffith Show'' reruns.
But Turner's vision paid off. He built on the success of TBS by launching CNN, Headline News, Cartoon Network and TNT as part of a vast media empire that was eventually consumed by a series of mergers.
Turner was eventually forced out, but that wasn't the only change. Superstations followed in Chicago and New York, showing more and more games around the country. Baseball eventually stepped in, gradually reducing the number of telecasts that cable channels could show in other markets. The Braves were already being forcibly weaned off TBS long before this new package came along.
``Our history with the Braves is tremendous,'' said David Levy, president of Turner Sports. ``This network grew up with Braves baseball when Ted was here. Ted's vision was buying the Braves and putting that content on TBS to grow that network. We have Braves fans across the country who tune in to TBS. It's a long history. We're just taking a new step.''
In 2008, TBS will step up its seven-year deal with 26 regular-season games on Sundays, along with the division series and a rotating arrangement with Fox to cover the league championship series (next season, TBS will do the ALCS).
For its first foray into playoff baseball, TBS hired Gwynn to work as an analyst, pairing him on the lead team with Chip Caray. Another Hall of Famer, Cal Ripken Jr., was brought in to work in the studio with Ernie Johnson Jr., the longtime host of TNT's acclaimed NBA coverage.
TBS also assembled three other broadcast teams to work the division series: Dick Stockton with Bob Brenly; Ted Robinson with Steve Stone; and Don Orsillo with Joe Simpson. Caray and Simpson are the only holdovers from TBS' Braves coverage.
Skip Caray and Van Wieren, both members of the team's Hall of Fame, were left out - a snub that Caray didn't take well, blasting the network for a lack of loyalty. TBS spokesman Jeff Pomeroy would only say, ``We picked four national broadcast teams that best serve the fans as we begin our new playoff package.''
Meanwhile, Gwynn and Ripken are preparing for their new roles, still linked after going into the Baseball Hall of Fame together this past summer.
Gwynn, who since retiring has been a color commentator on ESPN in addition to his duties as the San Diego State baseball coach, worked a couple of Braves games with Chip Caray during the regular season. They honed their chemistry and tried to smooth out any rough spots before the playoffs.
``Getting an opportunity to do postseason games is very exciting to me,'' Gwynn said, sitting in the booth on a warm afternoon before the second of his practice runs with Caray. ``Those are the most important games of the year.''
For the past three years, Ripken has teamed with his brother, former big-leaguer Billy Ripken, to host a show on satellite radio. The Hall of Famer serves largely as a straight man to his brother, but he'll be at the center of attention on TBS.
Just don't expect him to be another Charles Barkley, the clown prince of TNT's basketball coverage.
``There's only one Charles Barkley, and I don't think anyone can try to be that,'' Ripken said. ``He comes off so well because that's his natural, relaxed way. He's entertaining, he's funny, he's smart and he's not afraid to deliver an opinion. I'm just going to try to be who I am. I'm not sure how it's going to come out.''
Expect Ripken to present a cerebral approach to baseball, drawing on the experiences of his long playing career, not to mention all the knowledge he gained from his late father, who coached and managed in the big leagues.
``My greatest ability is my ability to analyze. My greatest weakness is my tendency to overanalyze,'' Ripken said. ``Some people think this is a slow-moving game. But you have to consider all the things that are happening. There's really a very short period of time between pitches to do all this. I'll try to make the fans aware of what's happening and why it happened. Those things are really interesting to me.''
Turner Sports, which also broadcasts golf and NASCAR races over its various networks, plans to take its playoff coverage far beyond the over-the-air broadcast. For instance, the network is launching a broadband channel known as ``Hot Corner,'' which will be hosted by actress-slash-baseball fan Alyssa Milano. There will be dugout cams and batting-practice cams, all intended to give fans more of a behind-the-scenes look.
``For 2 1/2 to three weeks, we're going to be just oozing baseball,'' Levy said. ``We know there's a huge craving for access that people normally don't have. We're trying to provide that access.''
He also believes his network can help baseball expand its fan base. Unlike ESPN, which is all sports, all the time, TBS and its related channels spend the bulk of their time on entertainment programming.
``We have a lot of different networks to cross-promote the postseason,'' Levy said. ``We're giving baseball that extended reach to bring in new viewers.''
Just don't expect to see the Braves.
 

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