FOOTBALL CHANNEL READIES KICKOFF.
You'd think by this time in our TV evolution, a 24-hour-a-day, seven- day-a-week all-football channel would be tormenting American housewives.
It ain't that simple, Butkus.
There's attracting investors. There's sinking thousands into marketing research. There's establishing a realistic programming schedule.
There's finding enough cheerleaders to pose for calendars.
The biggest cheerleader of them all, Jantonio Turner, bounces around in his relatively new office space off Melrose Ave., across the street from Paramount Studios in Hollywood.
About 2 1/2 year ago, he was in a tiny office in another part of town, wide- eyed and open-minded about getting his project, The Football Network, out the door and onto the airwaves as the next big all-everything channel. The energy and enthusiasm exuded daily by the 33-year-old would by itself seem to be enough to sustain the dream.
At a time when nearly 95 percent of business start-ups fail after two years and the demand for new channels in the crowded cable industry isn't that great, Turner needs more than a big smile. And he seems to be getting it.
There is a loose target date for the grand launch of this channel. There is plenty of cash behind the launch. And there's a bunch of the right people coming in at the right time to make it happen.
And when it does, Turner will be the first to tell everyone.
``We've definitely moved from the concept stages to making it happen,'' says Turner, who, with a staff of about 10, may not have an actual remote-control-activated channel to give viewers but has the plan to stay active.
A defining moment in The Football Network's progress occurred when it hooked up with Westlake Village-based Newberger Greenberg & Associates, a media advisory firm that got the Golf Channel, The Sci-Fi Channel and ZDTV off and running.
If you're looking for comparisons, it took the Golf Channel about five years from concept to actual launch. Then, once it became established, it was sold to Fox and Comcast for about $675 million.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is probably the biggest big-name investor so far of TFN. A Web site launched in late 1998 (www.footballnetwork.com) has given the company a healthy presence in the fast-track of the Internet. A radio presence has been established, producing a regular TFN feature on the ``Sports Byline USA'' show heard in about 200 markets nationwide.
In the meantime, they've been developing more than football programming - their post-production facility did a music video for the group SWAG that won ``Best Music Video'' at the Los Angeles Music Awards last November.
``This isn't all a front for something else here,'' Turner says. ``We've been building a mountain with a spoon for so long that now, when we get a shovel and a dump truck, it's easier to see it taking shape.''
The programming plan will be for complimentary shows rather than coverage of actual live games - sort of an E! Channel for the game. So doing all this out of Los Angeles is another plus for Turner.
It doesn't hurt that another new pro league, the XFL, plans to fill a football void in the late winter/early spring. Just more for TFN to cover.
The other intriguing aspect - The Football Network is a publicly-traded company. Currently going for about $1 a share, TFNK (the stock symbol it uses on the Over The Counter exchange) can build not just a potential viewer base but one that also has a financial stake in its success.
Without any competition, and with networks allowing him to take the financial risk, Turner understands the potential for profit will come while he's doing what he loves - giving the people more football.
``This is me,'' Turner admits. ``If it doesn't work, I don't work. But that's what's been necessary to keep going, a belief.
``People think the easiest thing to do would be put on a channel that's all football. If that's how they see it when it finally happens, it'll be fine with me.''
--Prime-time exposure: Fox's dive into the documentary biz continues with a series called ``Beyond the Glory,'' debuting Sunday at 9 p.m. on Fox Sports Net with an episode on the wild life and crazy times of Deion Sanders.
Comedian/thespian Jay Mohr narrates with celebs such as MC Hammer, Bob Costas, Al Micheals, Bobby Bowden and Michal Irvin providing insight, as well as with Sanders' mother, pastor, his former wife and his current wife.
Apparently, his third cousin once removed and yoga instructor's next- door neighbor weren't available for comment.
--Adding Norman Chad commentary to the banal Nick Bakay in an attempt to mix in some some sort of ``Siskel & Ebert'' to the process - knowing full well that Siskel isn't with us any longer - ESPN Classic reiinstitutes its ``Reel Classics'' lineup Sunday (6 p.m.) with ``Chariots of Fire, the '82 Oscar winner for best picture. The rest of the year includes commercial- crammed viewings ``The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh'' (Feb. 11), ``Hoosiers'' (April 1), ``Caddyshack'' (April 8), ``Slapshot'' (April 15), ``The Bad News Bears Go to Japan'' (June 3), ``Fear Strikes Out'' (June 24), ``Heaven Can Wait'' (Aug. 5 and 26), ``Brian's Song'' (Nov. 4) and ``North Dallas Forty'' (Nov. 25). Will they be bleeped out? This is a Disney channel, and so what if the full essence of a ``Caddyshack'' and ``Slapshot'' can't be enjoyed without naughty language.
--KFWB-AM (980) reshuffling has put sports anchor Bill Seward in the high-profile weekday drive-time slot (held most recently by Joe McDonnell) while Ted Sobel moves to middays (formerly done by Rod Van Hook) with Joe Calla at nights and weekends. Newcomer Bob Harvey and Eric Tracy also work it on weekends. Seward also starts work hosting Fox Sports Net's coverage of Santa Anita races with Sunday's San Pasqual Handicap.
--TNT introduced a new feature on its NBA coverage Thursday night - putting studio analyst Charles Barkley on a livestock scale to see how much he weighs each week. The 307-pounder says he wants to get down to his playing weight of about 250. This could inspire NBC to put studio analyst Peter Vecsey on a lie-detector test each week to chart his progress.
--ESPN Classic has already pegged Wednesday night's Oklahoma-Florida State national title game as an ``Instant Classic'' that'll be replayed Wednesday at 6 p.m. Didn't they watch the game live the first time?
--Don't say we didn't warn ya: Nominees for the Feb. 12 ESPY Awards will be announced during a one-hour special on ESPN next Saturday at 7 p.m. And in an attempt to drive up the credibility of this, they've expanded the ``ESPY Awards Academy'' to include 39 current and former editors, writers and columnists from the newspaper world, plus 16 broadcasters (17, if you include Larry King) to go with the two dozen ESPN employees who stuff the ballot box.
Box: SOUND BYTES (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jan 5, 2001|
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