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The Big Picture: Bunny's serious goals suggest wild things can indeed happen

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Here's a career path never before seen in journalism: Washington Wild Things broadcasts to "Survivor" to Playboy. It worked for South Fayette's Jenna Morasca.

Funny, but her replacement this season followed an opposite route: Playboy to Washington Wild Things broadcasts to ...

Sportscasting?

"I'll probably go back to school for broadcast journalism," Jesseca Turner, 24, said recently from the seats at Falconi Field, where the Coraopolis resident works as a baseline reporter -- same as the famed Jenna before her -- for the Wild Things' telecasts on the local Fox Sports Net. "I like this job. I think I'll go back and learn more about it."

Turner isn't kidding, even though she does possess a quick wit. No joke: This Playboy model has great personality. That makes her a natural for this kind of gig. Her desire to actually work at it also makes her unique.

In this babe-a-licious age of sports TV, when networks seem to rival the Bunny Company's searches when seeking out statuesque reporterettes to adorn their sidelines, it's refreshing to hear a pretty woman considering diligent study of the craft.

So many have been ushered into network sportscasting the past few years because of their appearance. End of qualifications. No average-looking or just-a-grade-below-gatefold candidates need apply.

Leeann Tweeden was a Playboy cover girl before landing on a couple of Fox Sports Net's extreme-sports shows, most notably "54321," on which she hardly presupposes to split atoms. Lisa Dergan similarly came off Playboy's pages to join Fox Sports Net as a network sports-news reader. Which was the same job previously held by Lisa G., alias Lisa Guerrero, alias Lisa Guerrero Coles, alias ABC's Latest "Monday Night Football" Sideline Accessory.

Lisa G. leaped from cheerleading coach to soap opera actress to local Los Angeles sportscaster to Fox Sports Net kitten, still continuing to pose in states of exposed flesh. At least she and her sideline/sportscasting sisterhood should presume that such a line of work carries a moral and ethical obligation for relatively serious journalism. Especially considering all the women who were subjected to sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and just plain awful conditions while blazing the trail of acceptance for a quarter-century ... you know, before Maxim. For which Lisa G. once posed. As did CBS' Jill Arrington.

Yeah, yeah, sex sells. In women sports reporters, it needn't have to.

You don't see CBS' Bonnie Bernstein and ESPN's Suzy Kolber doing any layouts other than TV Guide, and that one was pure TV-Y7 rated. They are studious reporters who use their brains rather than bodies to advance their careers. Nothing wrong with that. It worked for Lesley Visser and Gayle Gardner before them.

Pam Oliver is another case in point, an attractive sideline bauble with real broadcast chops. She got into trouble with the analysis-retentive NFL because she once committed an act of journalism: reporting a jawing session between some Chicago Bears and their offensive coordinator after witnessing it herself. But that league run-in underscores the inherently flawed position of a sideline reporter -- there really isn't much of anything they're allowed to add to a telecast. Except, of course, their good looks.

Into this quagmire of babedom vs. broadcaster, Turner wants to tread.

She hadn't spoke into a microphone until last spring, when the Wild Things' broadcast consultant, Tom Chaffee, found her by word of mouth. Here was this Cornell High graduate who spent a couple of years at CCAC and Duquesne, studying elementary education, before a 2000 Playmate search discovered her. "She's going to be a star," Chaffee said of her TV future.

Give Turner credit. She is approaching this sportscasting business from another angle. OK, so it's a full-frontal nude, in 25 special editions of Playboy and counting ...

"I would never say, 'Oh, don't look at me.' I'm not ashamed of my body. But I do want to be taken seriously, too."

True, that's a nearly impossible balance. Nowadays, she is clad in a bikini and handling mostly softball features on a minor-league baseball broadcast, such as the one Saturday afternoon with visiting Mid-Missouri.

"I love [TV work]. ... But I really want to get in it and learn and be a professional. I don't want people to say, 'Look at her, she's in the hot tub again.' "

Maybe we'll see Turner someday on a college-football sideline, personable yet probing in an interview or offering insight into an injury or explaining clearly the troubles with a certain zone-blitz defense. All the while wearing a baggy, frumpy pantsuit. All the while posing only questions.

In men's magazines, it's about the pictures, the sizzle. In sports TV, it should be the content, the substance.

Otherwise, wouldn't the male-chauvinist demographic make ratings monoliths out of fitness pageants, cheerleading competitions and bikini-beach volleyball?


Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.

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