Final Four broadcast signals changes


Two over-the-air changes will be ushered in this weekend, both of some historical significance by broadcast standards:

For the first time, the national semifinals of a Final Four will be televised not only on cable, but on multiple cable networks at the same time.

TBS will carry a traditional broadcast of today’s games, a move that continues a decadelong migration of many of sports’ marquee events from free TV to cable.

It already has happened with Monday Night Football, the NBA conference finals, one of Major League Baseball’s League Championship Series, and most recently, college football’s national championship game.

And now TBS will air two of the three Final Four games, with CBS televising Monday night’s championship. That will be the case in 2015 also, barring a change.

Beginning in 2016, TBS will air the entire Final Four every other year, alternating with CBS.

And there will be a twist to Turner’s coverage this weekend. Whereas TBS will show a traditional broadcast, TNT and TruTV will air simultaneous telecasts from the perspectives of the teams competing, with different announcers who will be encouraged to show bias. (No kidding.)

For example, TNT will air a Gators-flavored broadcast of the UF-Connecticut game, with Orlando Magic (and former UF) announcer David Steele and longtime Gators Basketball Network analyst Mark Wise on the call. Former Heat guard Rex Chapman will be the analyst on the Kentucky-flavored broadcast of its game with Wisconsin on TNT.

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said “you could see” more of this in the future with other sports.

CBS and TBS have combined their best talent on the Final Four since their partnership began in 2011, and that will continue this weekend, with Steve Kerr and Greg Anthony joining Jim Nantz on the game call.

The big on-air talent change will be Turner’s Ernie Johnson serving as host, instead of longtime Final Four host Greg Gumbel, who will assume a lower-profile role.

McManus said because Johnson is Turner’s signature host, “we thought it made sense to have Ernie be the primary host on Saturday, and to make a change halfway through (on Monday) didn’t make much sense,” McManus said.

For the first time this century, the World Series rights-holder will begin a season without Tim McCarver as its lead analyst.

Former big-league second baseman Harold Reynolds and Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci replace McCarver alongside play-by-play man Joe Buck on Fox’s lead announcing team, beginning with a Dodgers-Giants game on Fox Sports 1 at 10 a.m. today.

“It’s never easy to replace an icon, the greatest baseball analyst of all time,” Fox Sports president Eric Shanks said. “(With)Harold and Tom, there’s a ton of upside here. I hope people give this a chance before we make a judgment.”

Verducci will become the only person who wasn’t a former player, coach or manager serving as a lead analyst for a major network on any of the major sports. In fact, he will be only the second nonplayer or coach to ever work in the booth for a World Series. Howard Cosell was the other.

“This is a natural progression for me,” Verducci said. “This is my 33rd year covering baseball. I (have) institutional knowledge.”

Buck said he was “blown away” by Verducci’s aptitude for the job when they did practice games together.

As for Reynolds, he continues his career comeback after being dropped by ESPN in 2006 following a sexual-harassment complaint against him.

Fox has shifted much of its Saturday afternoon MLB package to Fox Sports 1. Fox will carry games on eight Saturday nights in May, June and July, plus four Saturday afternoons in September, as well as a league championship series and the World Series.

McCarver hasn’t retired, incidentally. He will announce 30 St. Louis Cardinals games this year for the team’s cable rights-holder.