A six-pack of media notes on a Friday:
▪ TNT and ESPN are making significant changes to their NBA coverage, and it appears to be for the better. The highlights:
1). TNT dumped the “players only” Tuesday night cablecasts and replaced them with more traditional cablecasts featuring a trained play-by-play announcer (Ian Eagle, Brian Anderson) with a trained analyst (Stan Van Gundy, Jim Jackson).
Those “players only broadcasts” — featuring three former players without a professional play-by-play voice — ended up ranking among the most regrettable sports broadcasting lab experiments of the 21st century.
Van Gundy, the former Heat coach hired from ESPN, will work in NBA TV’s studio until those Tuesday TNT cablecasts begin in January.
Marv Albert and Kevin Harlan will continue to announce TNT’s Thursday NBA games, with Reggie Miller and Chris Webber back as the primary analysts.
2). ESPN and ABC are overhauling their NBA studio shows. Host Michelle Beadle was ousted for several reasons, among them — according to a network source — her inexplicable refusal to appear on other ESPN platforms to promote NBA programming. Seriously. She reportedly has a $5 million annual salary and could get a buyout, as The New York Post reported.
Rachel Nichols, who has helped build “The Jump” into the second-best NBA studio show on TV (behind TNT’s award-winning “Inside the NBA”), will get the marquee host job on ABC’s Saturday night package, some playoff games and the NBA Finals. She also will continue to host “The Jump” on weekday afternoons.
Meanwhile, Maria Taylor will assume ESPN’s NBA studio duties on Wednesday and Friday nights and ABC on Sundays, working primarily with Jalen Rose and Jay Williams. Paul Pierce and Richard Jefferson also will make studio appearances. Adrian Wojnarowski also will make regular appearances.
Nichols, incidentally, will be joined by a rotating group of analysts, including Tracy McGrady, Scottie Pippen, Zach Lowe, Brian Windhorst and the analysts who will work alongside Taylor. But ESPN isn’t yet saying who will be on set with Nichols during the NBA Finals.
3). Chauncey Billups will shift from ESPN’s NBA studio to NBA and college game assignments. Jeff Van Gundy/Mark Jackson, Hubie Brown and Doris Burke return as ESPN’s top-tiered game analysts, in that order.
▪ Greg Likens — a longtime talk show host on Dolphins programming and more recently, on two South Florida sports stations (WQAM and 790 The Ticket) — left the media business to pursue another opportunity. He’s the fourth prominent person to leave those stations this year, following Brett Romberg, Josh Friedman and Curtis Stevenson.
Friedman and Stevenson were told their departures were cost-cutting moves.
Alex Donno lost his midday show with Friedman but has been retained by the stations, in a part-time role, for Panthers host duties and talk shows.
▪ Rob Gronkowski joined Fox as an NFL studio analyst and debuted on Thursday’s Patriots-Giants broadcast. As was the case with Jay Cutler, Fox cannot require Gronkowski to finish out his multiyear contract if he chooses to resume his playing career.
And asked on Fox if he might play again, Gronk said: “I would have to feel it big time to come back. I’ll always keep it open.”
▪ More NFL TV stuff: Fox is sending Dolphins-Redskins to only eight U.S. markets — five in Virginia, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Washington D.C., with Sam Rosen and Ronde Barber on the call. Fox decided viewers in Naples and Fort Myers would rather see Eagles-Vikings instead…. Surprisingly, the NFL and NBC did not flex out Sunday night’s Steelers-Chargers game.... Here are this week’s TV maps.
▪ ESPN assigned NFL studio analyst Louis Riddick to Friday’s UM-Virginia game, alongside play-by-play man Dave Flemming. ESPN this season is giving college game assignments to two of its NFL studio voices: Riddick and Tim Hasselbeck…. ACC Network now has a deal with every major South Florida cable or satellite provider except a really big one: Comcast/Xfinity. Florida State athletic director David Coburn told Rivals.com that the chance of a deal with Comcast “appears bleak for the foreseeable future.”
▪ ESPN — not CBS — gets UF-LSU on Saturday night because CBS used the first SEC pick of the weekend on Alabama-Texas A&M. ESPN will use ABC’s Saturday night announcers (Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit) on the Gators game, with Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge working the Penn State-Iowa Saturday night game on ABC. The UF game wasn’t eligible for an ABC broadcast.