Jim Williams: 'SportsCenter' is a pioneer program

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Sports,Jim Williams

When ESPN launched in Sept. 7, 1979, it was "SportsCenter" that greeted the few viewers watching the new all-sports network. In 1979, ESPN could be seen by 1.4 million cable homes nationwide. The network aired mainly college sports, and "SportsCenter" was seen three times a day, offering a half hour of highlights and sports commentary.

This past week, "SportsCenter" aired its 50,000th show to a potential audience of over 100 million cable and satellite viewers nationwide. Clearly a great deal has happened since George Grande anchored the first show.

"SportsCenter" gives fans what they want -- a show dedicated to covering every aspect of sports with highlights, analysis and a solid dose of humor. In the early days, it was Chris Berman and Bob Ley that handled most of the duties. Then came "The Big Show" with Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann. Those two anchors took "SportsCenter" to a new level as the program gained more viewers.

The Washington market has had a close relationship with "SportsCenter" over the years. ESPN has sent Dave Feldman to Fox 5 and Brett Haber to WUSA. Meanwhile, ESPN has scooped up the talent in Washington far more frequently.

Pam Ward, Bram Weinstein, Sage Steele, Chris McKendry, Sara Walsh, Michael Kim and one of ESPN's most recent additions former NBC4 sports anchor Lindsay Czarniak have all made the jump from Washington to "SportsCenter."

- Jim Williams

The show has also inspired other programs on regional networks like Comcast SportsNet. Over the past 10 years, there has been a transition since ESPN News was launched and regional sports networks have become far more established in the sports news business.

The role of the sports director at a broadcast station has been diminished. News directors continue to focus more on weather than sports because of their audience.

While the sports departments at the local stations continue to do a fine job, they are hamstrung with less time than ever. Clearly, sports news is now far more accessible locally on CSN and nationally on ESPN. The packaging of local sports on broadcast news may soon fall to the anchors, who will give it 90 seconds and move on to more weather. But we will always have CSN and ESPN.

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Check out his blog, Watch this!, on washingtonexaminer.com.

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Jim Williams

Sports Columnist
The Washington Examiner