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Knicks are off the Mark

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Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:30 am

Steve Kerr may turn out to be a terrific NBA head coach but I am wondering why he became the flavor of the month just because Knicks President Phil Jackson wanted him as his team’s next head coach. Although Kerr enjoyed a good career as a player in the NBA he was never a head coach in the league, though he was in charge of basketball operations for the Phoenix Suns from 2007 through 2010. They made the playoffs twice in that time and had a winning record for his entire tenure.

Kerr spurned the Knicks last week as he decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors. Jackson must have known that Kerr would have ambivalent feelings about working in New York for reasons that had nothing to do with Madison Square Garden CEO James Dolan. Even when he was working for the Suns, Kerr would commute to Phoenix from his home in San Diego. If you have spent any time in that beautiful Southern California city then you would find it hard to fault him. Of course Knicks fans still don’t know if Jackson, who also enjoys the SoCal lifestyle, will be a regular on coast-to-coast red-eye flights.

I was surprised the Warriors dismissed former Knicks and St. John’s University star Mark Jackson as their head coach. Mark did a fine job leading the Warriors to playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time since 1992. This year they won more than 50 games for the first time in 20 years.

After Kerr decided against the Knicks I figured that Jackson would be a no-brainer for them. He grew up in Cambria Heights, was a local hoops hero and certainly would have no problems communicating with the New York media, given that he was an outstanding broadcaster on both the YES Network and ESPN.

Mark must have felt a chill from Jackson as he decided to sign a three-year deal to return to ESPN. I expect him to be coaching in the NBA again before too long.

Politics and business make for strange bedfellows. The biggest cheers for the Rangers as they battle the Canadiens for the right to compete for the Stanley Cup may be coming from Philadelphia, where Comcast, NBC’s parent corporation, makes its headquarters.

You had better believe that Comcast executives are drooling at the thought of the ratings that would come from a Stanley Cup Final between a team from New York and one from either LA or Chicago. The Kings and Blackhawks are playing each other for the right to represent the NHL’s Western Conference. NBC doesn’t broadcast north of the border, so Montreal means little.

The second week of May is when both the broadcast and major cable networks unveil their new programming to advertisers and the media in presentations known as the Upfronts. The days of everyone watching their favorite shows at the times designated by the networks are in the rearview mirror with the advent of DVR and the internet, where network websites let you watch on demand. Sports, because they are shown live and the desire to watch drops considerably if the results are known, have resisted the trend of delayed watching, and therefore TV executives can charge a premium to advertisers.

NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt and NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus were beating their chests about having the top fall-rated show, “Sunday Night Football,” as well as having the broadcast rights to the 2015 Super Bowl and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The importance of the latter two sports extravaganzas is not just the sizable advertising revenue they generate but that they are fantastic promotional vehicles for entertainment shows on NBC. Greenblatt announced that a special episode of the Peacock Network’s 2013 hit, “The Blacklist,” will air following Super Bowl XLIX.

Fox did not have a great year ratings-wise, thanks to the continued erosion of “American Idol,” the cancellation of “The X Factor,” and the failure of one of my favorite shows this spring, “Rake,” which starred Greg Kinnear as a self-destructive attorney. Fox is still very strong in sports with its National Football League, Major League Baseball and NASCAR packages. In 2015 it will be adding two former NBC properties, Major League Soccer and golf’s US Open, which will have Joe Buck as its lead broadcaster.

It will be interesting to see whether CBS’s eight-game Thursday night NFL package that will run in September and October causes any decline in ratings for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” A number of CBS shows will start their fall runs later than normal because of its commitment to the NFL. CBS Sports executives brought out Bill Cowher and Tony Gonzalez to mingle with advertisers at their post-Upfront reception at Lincoln Center.

Come 2015, CBS will not be broadcasting tennis’s premier event, the US Open, for the first time since nearly anyone can remember, as ESPN has now obtained exclusive rights. The Worldwide Leader in Sports brought Douglaston native John McEnroe out on stage at the Minskoff Theater this past Tuesday to reminisce both about playing at the Open and growing up in its home borough, Queens.

Mike Golic, one half of ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” morning show, was so excited to be on the stage of the Minskoff Theater, the Broadway home of “The Lion King,” that he sang a couple of stanzas of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” Golic surprised nearly everyone at the Upfronts with his mellifluous baritone voice. He admitted to me afterward that he loves karaoke and used to entertain his teammates with song during his NFL days. Given the fact that ESPN’s sister Disney TV property, ABC, finished fourth in the ratings this year, perhaps he should host a variety show on that network.

ESPN CEO John Skipper poked fun at Michelle Beadle’s disastrous short-lived stint at NBC Sports, in which she co-hosted with Dave Briggs (TV’s answer to Mattel’s famous doll, Ken) the now-canceled 6 p.m. sports-pop culture show, “The Crossover.” Beadle proved to be a good sport as she took the ribbing in stride.

Beadle wasn’t the only prodigal personality to return to ESPN, as Keith Olbermann poked fun at his peripatetic career. There may be other former air personalities who may be returning to Bristol, according to Skipper.

As has been the case in past years, ESPN brought in a number of big-name athletes to shmooze with ad buyers, including Carmelo Anthony and Tim Tebow.

Knicks fans who are desperate for a kernel of good news may take some comfort in my brief conversation with Melo. He recognized me and gave me a very nice greeting. He told me that he is very pleased with the growth of Power Coco, his coconut water company that is competing against the likes of Zico, Vita Coco and O.N.E., as well as many others. I then told him that I hope I would get to see him next year in Manhattan. “We’re working on it!” he replied very optimistically.

Tebow will be an analyst for ESPN’s new Southeast Conference Network, but he hasn’t given up his dream of playing again in the NFL. I kidded with him about the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting QB Blake Bortles from the University of Central Florida with the third pick in the NFL Draft.

“Don’t the Jags know that there is another quarterback from the Sunshine State who could sell even more tickets for them?” I asked with a smile.

“I hear you!” replied Tebow with a knowing laugh.

ESPN has been facing more challengers than ever thanks to the resources being poured into Fox Sports 1, NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network. Despite the promulgation of competitors, they have not made a dent into ESPN’s ratings dominance.

“It’s hard to get viewers for studio shows if you don’t have the rights to sports programming that people want to see. However, we still worry about the competition,” Skipper told the press following the presentation.

Comcast launched the Esquire Network last fall as an upscale answer to Viacom’s Spike TV. It may have a winner as Spike Feresten will be hosting “Car Matchmaker,” in which he tries to find the right vehicle for guys. If Feresten’s name sounds vaguely familiar it is because he hosted an eponymous late-night Saturday show on Fox for two seasons that went up against NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Of course he wasn’t going to win that battle, but I can tell you there were many nights when his show was a lot funnier.

World Wrestling Entertainment grappler and executive Paul “Triple H” Levesque appeared on stage at NBC Universal Cable Networks’ Upfront to announce that the WWE had agreed to continue showing its programming on USA Network, Syfy and E! Wall Street was not thrilled with the news, as the WWE stock price plunged by nearly 25 percent the next day. Apparently financial analysts thought that the WWE did not get the best deal it could have from NBC Universal. They also suspected that the WWE is not getting the subscription revenue that it was expecting when it launched the digital WWE network earlier this year.

WWE CEO Vince McMahon is renowned for being a tough negotiator, but he may have met his match with his NBC Universal Cable CEO, Hollis native Bonnie Hammer.

The growing Hispanic market is not being ignored by blue-chip advertisers, as Univision, Telemundo and Mundo Fox all had splashy presentations this past week.

The leading Hispanic media conglomerate, Univision, as per custom, is going all in with soccer — el f˙tbol. Next month it will be the Spanish-language home for the World Cup. It also will be televising the Western Hemisphere’s answer to the World Cup, La Copa Americana, in 2016 and have the Spanish-language rights to Major League Soccer.

Telemundo’s Mun 2 will be broadcasting the 2015 Super Bowl in Spanish. This is the first time that will happen in the United States. In the past you had to cross the Mexican border to watch it on Azteca or Mundo Fox if you wanted to enjoy “the big game” in Spanish.

I will be writing in greater detail about the entertainment shows that were introduced during Upfront week as we get closer to the fall. Fox had two that caught my attention. Chicago-born comedian John Mulaney may very well become the new Jerry Seinfeld with “Mulaney,” which boasts a cast that includes Elliot Gould and Martin Short. Rainn Wilson of “The Office” fame switches gears completely as he plays a burned-out cop similar to the kind played by Clint Eastwood in “The Gauntlet” in his new show, “Backstrom.”

Also acting against type is Debra Messing, who plays a tough-as-nails NYPD detective in NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura.” Think of her as Dirty Harriet.

On the downside, NBC has too many similar foreign affairs conspiracy dramas, with the worst offender being “State of Affairs” starring the supremely untalented and unlikable Katherine Heigl. Another NBC show, “Bad Judge,” starring Kate Lynch, looks like fun but it hews too closely to CBS’s just canceled “Bad Teacher, which had Ari Graynor taking over the role of the unmotivated educator made famous by Cameron Diaz in the 2011 film of the same name.

The undisputed king of also-ran broadcast networks, the CW, renewed “America’s Top Model,” a show that no one has watched or spoken about in years, yet again. The CW had some success with “The Arrow” last season and now it will add another DC Comics character to its primetime schedule this fall with “The Flash.”

UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. While he didn’t have the high profile that Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney did, he did get an endorsement deal with Subway Restaurants. To welcome him as its latest professional athlete, Subway commissioned a gigantic sculpture of him made completely out of the vegetables Subway serves in its footlongs.

I am not sure if Barr will earn a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, but he has certainly earned one that should be on display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Life and style

Speaking of food, I have to admit a weakness for cookies, particularly Keebler Vienna Fingers and Pepperidge Farms Milanos. Last year Pepperidge Farms added a dulce del leche flavor and now it’s added a raspberry-chocolate line. I will now need more workout time!

As we all know it was a frigid winter and so far it has been a cool spring. In all likelihood, however, summer will still be unbearably hot. If you are looking for an easy getaway from the heat, Queens’ own JetBlue has frequent service between JFK and picturesque Portland, Maine. There is now a new ferry service provided by Nova Star Cruises that connects Portland with Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and accepts vehicles. Don’t forget to bring your passport with you, however, since Nova Scotia is part of Canada.

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