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THE MEDIA : FOX: MOVE OVER BUGS BUNNY.

Byline: Tom Hoffarth

You can't say ``buffalo heinie'' on a kid's TV show.

Can you?

Melissa Forman, the producer and director of Fox's Saturday morning baseball program ``In the Zone,'' scrunched up her nose when the phrase came up in a script during a location shoot at Dodger Stadium.

``They say `boogers' all the time on Nickelodeon,'' reasoned Zack Ward, the actor who plays the fictional character ironically named ``Zack'' on the show. Zack was to deliver the phrase to his TV brother ``Mike'' (played by Mike Simmrin), as in ``you're making me look like a buffalo heinie.''

``Once, they took out a reference to the Donner Party,'' said Simmrin, giving some historical background to TV censorship.

Forman didn't have a lot of time to debate the issue.

The Tuesday morning sun beat down unusually hard on the cast and crew, most of whom had been there since daybreak. It had to be pushing 100 degrees, even at 9 a.m.

Add to it the roar from the lawn mower cutting the outfield grass that wasn't much higher than a putting green (and the power vacuum picking up the clippings), competing with construction workers' jackhammers and power drills that echoed through the empty stadium. Overhead, a traffic helicopter flapped around, causing the soundman with the highly sensitive microphone to cringe.

But for the past two seasons of ``In The Zone,'' Forman's decisions have been a huge reason why the Fox execs rave about the fast-moving, MTV-style magazine show aimed at young baseball fans.

The ratings for it were so impressive after the first season, Fox dropped the half-hour baseball studio infoshow with Steve Lyons and Chip Caray that had led into the regular-season Saturday ``Game of the Week'' and bumped ``In The Zone,'' nominated for two Emmys already, up into the leadoff slot. Fox Sports chief David Hill has even begun to lobby the baseball powers to start Saturday telecasts at noon instead of 1 p.m., so Fox's Saturday morning cartoon lineup will merge easier with the sports. (For now, the ``In The Zone'' lead-in is ``Gilligan's Island.'')

Plus, Fox is considering an NFL show for kids using the same cast, which did a pilot episode recently.

For baseball's sake, and for Fox's, kid viewers will replace the older ones who've become disenchanted with the game. Shows like ``In The Zone'' and ``NBA Inside Stuff,'' which some see only as propaganda to lure kids in, have become important selling tactics when networks bid on major sports TV rights.

Baseball might not compare in speed or excitement to basketball, hockey or a brain freeze out of the 7-Eleven Slurpee machine. But it's Fox's investment, with ``In The Zone,'' to make the game something before it becomes buried by video games, virtual reality and cybertext.

``In a sense, we do feel some kind of responsibility to bring kids back,'' said actor Richard J. McGregor, a North Hollywood High grad who plays ``Rich'' on the show. ``I enjoy giving out hats and stickers to the kids when we go out on promotions. The sport has been good to us.''

Simmrin, who grew up playing Little League in North Hollywood and graduated this summer from Sherman Oaks' Notre Dame High, admits that despite a bio in the Fox baseball press guide that makes him out to be the Valley's greatest prep athlete, he's not a huge baseball fan.

But as an actor, he understands his role.

``Getting this job has made me interested in baseball,'' admitted Simmrin, whose older cousin, Randy, had a successful career as a wide receiver at USC in the early '80s. ``I look at it this way: I'm into snowboarding. If there was a show about snowboarding, all about the equipment and competitors and places to go, I'd watch. And I imagine kids out there who like baseball watch us do a really cool show each week.

``The writing may be for kids, but there's plenty of information for adults to pick up on. The writing is very smart.''

Simmrin said he can't even walk into a pizza parlor with his little brother's soccer team without getting swarmed by kids because he's recognized from the show. He even had Fox put his own e-mail address (mike4496aol.com) on the show's Website (http://www.foxkids.com) so he could correspond.

It's a testimony to Fox, which is able to sell America's youth on a game with actors who admit to not knowing the difference between an infield-fly rule and an inside-the-park home run.

Which is why the script becomes so important.

Which is why a phrase like ``buffalo heinie'' can cause Forman to consider if this is going to hurt or help baseball's image. And Fox's. And her own.

Forman allowed the ``buffalo heinie'' line to stay. Of course, network standards and practices will have the final say.

Just as today's kids will have the final say on whether baseball survives as a TV sport in the next century.

SOUND BYTES

WHAT SMOKES

A postscript to the 0.0 spring Arbitron rating assigned to all-sports KIIS-AM (1150) radio station. Arbitron has admitted a mistake. A service that provides Southern California phone numbers that Arbitron uses to collect data failed to take into account former parts of the 310 area code that recently changed to 562, which means 53 L.A. county and 13 Orange County zip codes weren't taken into account. Arbitron's response: Uh, sorry.

During the ``Monday Night Football'' telecast of the exhibition game between Denver and Miami in Mexico City, ABC fed the audio of the Spanish-language version of the game to the TV audience for a few plays late in the fourth quarter. Added Al Michaels: ``And the word from the truck is that Rudy Martzke of USA Today just gave them an A-minus for their commentary.''

WHAT CHOKES

Fox's sudden cold feet about carrying Jim Rome's spicy hot ``jungle.'' A month before a taped half-hour of Rome's radio show was to have debuted weeknights on the Fox Sports cable network, one of Rupert Murdoch's flunkies decided to pull the plSug on a $2.5 million arrangement. The fear was Rome's ability to rattle the cages of too many people affiliated with pending Fox deals (such as Murdoch's Dodgers purchase). That must be Fox's new definition of cutting-edge programming.

Fox Sports Net's daily news show waived baseball analyst Rob Dibble last week for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. Which isn't so unusual, except that Dibble had just taken a few days off to attend his father's funeral and then moved his entire family out to L.A. - only to return and find out he was no longer needed. Welcome to the real show.

CAPTION(S):

Box

BOX: SOUND BYTES (see text)
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 8, 1997
Words:1127
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