Tennis fans make a racket over U.S. Open coverage

Between a rock and a hard ace.

Wedged snugly in there was KLAS-TV, Channel 8 after diverting CBS’ U.S. Open finals coverage — forced to Monday by a Sunday rainout — to Las Vegas One. That triggered disgruntled calls from those not subscribing to Cox Cable and satellite customers shut out of the action.

Channel 8 opted for regularly scheduled "Guiding Light," "Ellen" and "Eyewitness News," though tennis coverage was done by news time. Still, were viewers desperate enough for jury selection reports from the O.J. trial to justify protecting the news? Doubtful. But depriving the soap and "Ellen" faithful would’ve melted their switchboard, rather than just singe it.

Still, a free broadcast channel denied highly anticipated network programming to those not springing for cable. Can’t get around that. (Though it will be rebroadcast on Channel 8 Saturday night at 11:40 p.m.)

There’s no decision in this situation that doesn’t fry somebody’s bacon. Channel 8 calculated viewer percentages predicated on Cox’s 70 percent market penetration. "What CBS suggested was to carry it on our digital channel, but a much smaller percentage has digital cable," explains Channel 8 general manager Emily Nielson. "Our decision was based on how much programming we could provide to as wide an audience as possible." (It was also streamed online.)

It’s a reasonable argument: Seventy percent cable penetration is sizable, topping the national average of approximately 58 percent, and Las Vegas One is a basic tier channel available to all subscribers. A couple more caveats: Many fans without cable couldn’t watch most of the U.S. Open anyway, the bulk of it carried on the USA network. And while the U.S. Open has major sports cachet, it’s still entertainment programming that was removed, as opposed to shifting a White House briefing or other vital news to cable to sidestep pre-emptions (as networks have done, such as NBC with MSNBC). Also, Channel 8 wasn’t obligated to carry this specific coverage and could have dumped it rather than reroute it to Las Vegas One.

Whether ticking off "Ellen" fans or tennis fans, someone was bound to make a racket.

Roamin’ the Remote: Once all the fannies are Super-Glued into the jury box, Las Vegas One will go wall-to-wall O.J. 8 a.m.-6 p.m. every day of the trial. … Vegas PBS will produce a six-episode eco series to air in early 2009, complementing PBS’ "Green Matters." …

Local affiliates carrying new syndicated series could suffer serious ratings fallout from the fall rollout via Obama and McCain. During election cycles, chunks of daytime viewers migrate to cable, political ads suck up spots that normally flack these shows, and by November, more syndicated newbies prowl the locals for time slots. That wiseacre wit of new yakker Bonnie Hunt deserves better. …

An evergreen aspect of local newscasts? Anchors thanking field reporters on-air when they file stories. Bless their self-congratulatory little hearts. They praise each other so you don’t have to.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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