Who's to blame for 'Sports Writers' getting benched?

October 12, 2010

After just four weeks on the air, reruns of “The Sports Writers on TV” have disappeared from Comcast SportsNet Chicago — though insiders can’t seem to agree on who’s at fault for the sudden vanishing act.


The Sports Writers on TV

 Ballyhooing the show’s “triumphant return” back in August, CSN president Jim Corno called it “truly an exciting day for me and all of us at Comcast SportsNet to announce that the ‘Fab Four’ of sports talk will once again be making their way back to television and, for the first time, on the web.” He was referring, of course, to the famed foursome of Bill Gleason, Bill Jauss, Rick Telander and Ben Bentley, whose nationally acclaimed sports roundtable show aired from 1985 to 1998.

Since Sept. 10, vintage episodes of the show (updated with contemporary video pop-ups) had been airing on Comcast SportsNet at 11 p.m. Fridays and Sundays and online at CSNChicago.com. But when they didn’t appear for a fifth week last weekend, the network wasn’t saying much. “Unfortunately, Comcast SportsNet is no longer carrying ‘The Sports Writers’ at this time,” a spokesman for Corno said in response to an inquiry. “Show producer John Roach is sorting out some issues with the principals involved. . . . We’ve been told to defer any calls to Roach directly.”

For his part, Roach made vague references to “compensation issues [that] arose at the 11th hour,” telling the Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal: “We had to take a step back and look at how we could define everyone’s relationship in a way for everyone to grow again.”

That’s all anyone is willing to say right now. But it hardly explains why Comcast SportsNet would have put the show back on the air in the first place if all of those matters hadn’t been sorted out already.

Sources said initial concerns were raised by Telander, the Sun-Times star sports columnist and one of the show’s two surviving original cast members. (Bentley died in 2001, Gleason died earlier this year, and Jauss is retired from the Tribune.) Telander is believed to have sought residual payments for his appearances on the reruns, and editorial control over the content of the pop-ups, which often pointed out how right or wrong predictions on the show turned out to be.

After that, the story gets more complicated: Some say Telander’s issues were resolved before the show began airing. Others suggest they were merely set aside while the show had a four-week “trial run” (a description never mentioned, by the way, in the official announcement of its “triumphant return”). Still others say Telander pressed for more than the token payment Roach had offered to the participants or their heirs — even though Roach might not have been legally required to share any future revenue with them.

So what are we to make of all this? Two things, I’d say:

  • It’s a shame we’re being deprived the chance to watch these shows again — for whatever reason — especially after having been teased for four weeks of their sometimes fascinating, often hilarious and always insightful banter. Even if the typewriter sound-effects before each pop-up got to be annoying. (Update: The noise was reduced after the first two shows.)
  • It sure would be great to hear what the “Fab Four of Sports Talk” would have to say about their on-again, off-again comeback today. Now wouldn’t that be something?