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The Big Picture: 'Savran on SportsBeat' becomes Fox Sports Net's franchise show

Monday, August 18, 2003

They're officially tinkering with the franchise now.

First, it became apparent that "SportsBeat" was deemed stale by Fox Sports Net's Hollywood bosses. Then, in mid-May, Guy Junker was ripped from the set of the phenomenon he helped to found more than a decade earlier. So if there was no more Stan 'n Guy show to love, that left Fox Sports Net with essentially one logical option.

Stan 'n show.

Starting tonight, the local television staple becomes reborn as "Savran on SportsBeat." Or, for short, I'm calling it "S.O.S." What with the "Mamma Mia" Broadway craze, perhaps the cable channel could use the ABBA song of the same name as the revised show's theme. And maybe get Swedish Penguins Johan Hedberg or Dick Tarnstrom to lip-synch a video.

The love you gave me, nothing else can save me, 'S.O.S.'

When you're gone, how can I even try to go on ...

Now, back to the show.

Fox Sports Net types are tinkering with the franchise that has been the channel's face, the channel's spirit and, outside of relatively fluctuating numbers for Penguins and Pirates broadcasts, the channel's ratings stability since its KBL inception.

Think of Crystal Pepsi. The Edsel. NBC's "Cop Rock."

Are they pouring New Coke into our gullets starting tonight?

"I don't think so," said Paul Kosuth, the executive producer at their 2 Allegheny Center headquarters. "We've been talking about this for a long time. If we preserve what makes 'SportsBeat' 'SportsBeat,' which is Stan's opinion and knowledge, then we've done our job. People respect him and respect his opinions.

"We might change the look of the bottle, but it still tastes the same on the inside."

A new graphic look will be unveiled tonight. "Pittsburgh Sports Tonight" anchors, most likely Rob King and Pat Parris, will appear near the start of each half-hour with a new-fangled, sports-news update. There will be doodads and trinkets and entertainment-oriented inserts in future programs.

The biggest difference, though, will be this: Stan 'n ... nobody regular.

"He will be the lone regular host of the show," said Larry Eldridge, channel general manager. "We considered continuing the two-person rotation. We talked about having a consistent co-host. We talked about guest co-hosts. But Stan resonates with the sports fans in this area, so we felt it natural to go Han Solo, as we call it here. Within these walls, it's the opinion that he's probably the most trusted voice on the air around here, especially when it comes to giving opinions."

Savran's perspective about the change? "Now, if the show stinks, I'll be the only one to blame."

Who's he kidding? The show won't stink. True, it won't be the same without Junker. Savran knew that. Fox Sports Net types, even the heartless ones in Hollywood, should've known that.

Being the local, tribal network as it long ago proclaimed, Fox Sports Net then had no other choice to satisfy the sports-talk-restless natives in this unique market. Despite what the company does elsewhere, despite Rupert Murdoch's write-downs and costly satellite-TV ventures and corporate streamlining, the network and its local affiliate could hardly afford to lose both Junker and Savran here. The team was great while it lasted, never to be duplicated, but now comes the time for solo acts. Hence, a name goes up in lights: "Savran on SportsBeat."

"It didn't make any sense to me to continue doing exactly the same kind of show without Guy," Savran said. "Nor did I want to. Doing the show since he was fired was the longest 60 minutes of the day. It was just endless ... and very painful for me. And I just didn't want to continue doing it that way -- nothing against any of the people who filled in for him since, I have a lot of respect for them and what they do.

"So we just agreed this was the best way to go about it."

Savran will still take your calls, although those fit better into the hour-long broadcasts than the half-hour pregame shows. "It was, and always will be, a radio talk show on TV." He plans to have the usual suspects there to answer your questions along with him, guests slotted on certain days each week, such as Tunch Ilkin and Mr. Monday Night on Mondays, and so on.

"During the course of time, you'll see some other changes," said Eldridge, comparing cable's oranges to network's apples by pointing out how "SportsBeat," entering a 13th season, has stayed on TV longer than "Cheers," "M*A*S*H," "Friends," "Seinfeld," "X-Files," "Baywatch" and "Hawaii Five-O," which, for you uninitiated, isn't a Little League score. "But we're not going to mess with the integrity of the show. It's been very successful. It's got a significant, hard-core audience that has been there a long time and like what they've been watching.

"We'll merely try to pump up the entertainment quotient ... to give it a little bit of a gear shift. With a one-host show, that makes sense to try to change the pace, particularly in the one-hour shows. Hopefully, as we get into the fall, you'll see some concepts that come into the show."

Such as, maybe, a Suh-wede music video? Whatever they do -- and Fox often does wacky things -- they ultimately have to fallback on the remaining "SportsBeat" calling card: It's about Savran and the show.

Chuck Finder can be reached at or 412-263-1724.

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