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KUTV PULLS PLUG ON GAME AND RILES PLENTY OF VIEWERS

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Talk about your dunder-headed moves - KUTV pulled the plug on NBC's broadcast of the UCLA-Kentucky basketball game with about 20 seconds left to play on Saturday afternoon so it could broadcast the opening tipoff of the Utah-Southern Cal game.

No doubt there were more local viewers interested in the Utes than in the Bruins and the Wildcats. But missing the first couple of minutes of the Utah-USC game wouldn't have been much of a loss, whereas KUTV out-and-out betrayed the viewers who had been watching the UCLA-Kentucky game.If 10 minutes or even five minutes had remained in NBC's game, the decision would have been understandable. But a few seconds? (Even with timeouts, the rest of the game didn't last long.)

Had the outcome of that game, matching the then-No. 3 Wildcats against the then-No. 5 Bruins, been decided, the decision to switch away also would have been understandable. It would have been analogous to Fox switching local viewers away from the 49ers-vs. Falcons game (a 50-14 San Francisco win) on Sunday afternoon when things got out of hand.

But UCLA was in the midst of a big comeback, with the Bruins claiming an 82-81 victory with two free throws that came with only six-tenths of a second remaining in the game.

It's hard to imagine that anyone involved with the Utah basketball program would have been put out had KUTV stayed with the UCLA-Kentucky game until it ended.

Viewers who had sat through the first 39-plus minutes of the game are steamed at Ch. 2, and they have every right to be.

This was, however, an executive decision - don't blame the sports staff.

But to make matters worse, KUTV staffers did a lousy job of letting its viewers know what had happened at the end of the game they'd cut away from.

Again, not a smart move - unless Ch. 2 was deliberately trying to alienate viewers.

A NICE WORD: By the way, your local television editor did enjoy KUTV sportscaster David James' recent remarks about how next year another station would be taking the complaints about the all-too-frequent airing of Denver Bronco games in this market - and the fact that it would be Ch. 2 airing ice-skating on Sunday afternoons.

GOING BOWLING: For the second year in a row, the Runnin' Utes bowl game will be seen on the home of the BYU Cougars - KSL-Ch. 5.

KSL signed a contract last year to carry both the 1993 and 1994 games, obviously hoping that it would get the Cougars once if not twice. But with Utah making a return appearance in Anaheim, the folks at Ch. 5 aren't exactly unhappy about the situation.

Not only is KSL carrying the nationally syndicated coverage of the Utah-Arizona game on Tuesday, Dec. 27, at 7 p.m., but the Ch. 5 sports staff is putting together a half-hour pregame show that will air at 6:30 p.m.

As for BYU's postseason appearance, it's a case of different game, same channel. The Cougars didn't make it back to the Holiday Bowl, but they did make it back to ESPN.

BYU's Copper Bowl showdown with Oklahoma on Dec. 29 at 6 p.m. will be a cable-only telecast.

GOOD NEWS: Then future of "The MacNeil/Lehrer News-Hour," which has been much in doubt because of financial shortfalls, has been assured by an infusion of cash from a rather unlikely source.

MacNeil/Lehrer, the company that produces PBS' fine newscast, has sold a two-thirds interest to a subsidiary of Tele-Communications Inc., the nation's largest cable company.

Cynics might believe that TCI Chairman John Malone, whose image as a modern-day robber baron has made him a favorite target on Capital Hill, is trying to clean up that image a bit.

While "NewsHour" is still moving to Washington, D.C., reportedly Robert MacNeil, who was planning to retire next year, may be rethinking that decision.

FINAL NUMBERS: By the way, the final national numbers for the late-night battle that took place during Thanksgiving week came in, and showed an even more smashing victory for David Letterman than had the early returns.

The final tally was an average 6.2 rating and 18 share for Letterman's "Late Show," 32 percent higher than Jay Leno's 4.7/14. Letterman won all five nights by substantial margins.

(Leno did, however, pull out of third place behind "Nightline" and into second when the national numbers came in.)

Not surprisingly, NBC officials haven't had word one to say about the results after all but hooting from the rooftops that, what with Leno on the road that week, "Tonight" would finally beat the "Late Show."

Still hasn't happened.