Last week’s news that WNBC is sending Len Berman packing left the sports anchor’s followers confused and perturbed. Ahh, the New York sports anchor. He’s part of an idiosyncratic species that includes personae from the polished (Berman) to the zany (WABC’s inveterate oddball Scott Clark). He’s proven skillful at building devoted audiences and leaving a few choice catchphrases in our heads — Warner Wolf of WCBS gave us “Let’s go to the videotape!” But the local-news sports guy, with his quaint highlight reels and sometimes cheesy taglines, seems like a relic of the golden age of TV — especially here in the city.
Berman himself isn’t terribly worried about the field in general. If there are still local newscasts in ten years, “probably, you’ll see someone like me,” he told us. Over the 23 years he was at WNBC, though, he saw his airtime progressively and significantly cut. “It was part sports, part entertainment,” Berman said, wistfully recalling his days on set with Al Roker.
If the classic local sports guy disappears completely, he’ll be remembered as the ancestor of the very sports coverage that’s nudging him into obsolescence. According to Ron Simon, curator of Television and Radio at the Paley Center for Media, the sports channel SNY was based on the ESPN model, whose own on-air talent is structured to mimic the punchy local news guys. SNY, as it expands, now presents a real danger to those reporters. “Their half-hour newscasts are just an expansion of what Len Berman and others were able to do for only a few minutes,” Simon explained.
Moreover, he said, Marv Albert and Berman pioneered the art of presenting highlights on TV. “The ‘Spanning the World’ highlight reel became a national phenomenon. Essentially, you have all sorts of variations of that, whether it’s the top ten plays or the not-so-top ten plays.” Of course, at the end of every “Spanning the World” clip reel, Don Pardo’s voice-over intones: “See you next time! If there is a next time ….” Soon enough, we’ll see if the old gag has taken on new meaning.