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Fox’s World Series Coverage: A Field of Bad Dreams

World Series 2010
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Fox isn’t alone in its East Coast bias, but not giving the Giants and Rangers credit is an error: A THR analysis.

This column will appear in the first issue of the re-launched Hollywood Reporter which appears on newsstands Wednesday. It was written two days before the Giants clinched the World Series on Monday night.

It’s a truism in baseball that a runner who breaks too early for the next base and gets caught in a rundown looks like a scrambling fool. His fate sealed, he dances around for as long as possible before being tagged out.

Fox looks a lot like that right now, broadcasting a World Series matchup it didn’t really want to happen. (At press time, the Series wasn’t over.) San Francisco and Texas are big markets — this isn’t Milwaukee vs. Tampa Bay, after all — but the East Coast bias so prevalent in all sports was clear weeks ago as postseason baseball began the elimination battle.

In the end, Fox not only wanted the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies but assumed on-air that the matchup was likely — six of eight analysts picked the Yankees over the Rangers and 10 of 10 picked the Phillies over the Giants, which is just the beginning of a wider slant.

Pre-ordaining favorites is an old sports custom as well, but when it goes wrong, nothing looks more ungainly than all the backpedaling and linguistic gymnastics needed to make your mistake seem less embarrassing.

Of course, Fox isn’t the only offender here. ESPN — one of the most flagrant when it comes to East Coast bias unless it involves Kobe Bryant — never really got on the Giants or Rangers bandwagon. Their anchors at least had respect for Texas, though it was hard to hear through all the slobbery Yankees praise.

The outlet that came closest to an even-handed view was the MLB Network, which (like most of the public) appreciated the Giants pitchers and the Rangers’ bats and speed, though MLB didn’t expect them to be around for long. Once the two teams knocked off their East Coast competition, the network began airing in-depth reporting that qualified as a make-up kiss.

The World Series coverage on Fox is visually satisfying. The camera work, replays and isolation coverage has been spot-on. Unfortunately, the announcing has been as grating as expected. There are not a lot of die-hard baseball fans who want to hear Tim McCarver talk about anything. McCarver actually inspired ShutUpTimMcCarver.com — a site that regrettably hasn’t been updated since 2006, most likely because the person hosting the site just couldn’t take it anymore.

Joe Buck — who does the play-by-play while McCarver is adding color or expert analysis (also known as annoying prattle) — does a better job but nothing on par with, say, local announcers or someone like Jon Miller. In fact, the sports site Deadspin recently put up a tutorial: “Silencing Joe Buck and Tim McCarver: A Simple Tech Solution to Our Crappy World Series Announcers.” In detail, it showed how fans could sync local radio broadcasts with the actual TV coverage (which generally has a delay).

At least Fox gets some credit for finally figuring out that in its failed dreams and prayers of an all-East Coast World Series, there’s a story to be found in the underdog Giants; virtually no one picked them to beat Texas). How Fox took so long to see what any good journalist could suss out in a day or so is beyond explanation.

But for the first two games in San Francisco, it dawned on Fox that not only is the city a picture-postcard of a visual dream, but the Giants play in one of the most beautiful ballparks in the major leagues. McCarver aside, it’s nice to see aerial shots of the waterfront AT&T Park, both day and night.

Fox also realized that this Giants team is a collection of quirky dudes. You’ve got the “Fear the Beard” phenomenon of tattooed closer Brian Wilson’s ridiculously awesome (and dyed) black facial hair. He wears that with a mohawk. You’ve got ace pitcher Tim Lincecum, aka “The Freak,” whose long hair, small frame and major heat are a great package. Plus all the adults — and yes, kids — wearing those panda hats in honor of Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval (whose seasonlong slump has left him a nonfactor other than on the sartorial end). Plus, San Francisco fans are just a lot weirder than Texas fans, as Texas star Josh Hamilton noted when he mentioned all the pot smoking in the stands.

How can Fox botch this? By worrying too much about ratings. Sure, you didn’t get your dream matchup. Early ratings were down compared with two years go, which was the lowest-rated Series ever. But hey, they’re not down as much as “Running Wilde,” so there’s some consolation. Seriously, if you pay for the rights to broadcast the Series, there’s always a chance you’ll get two ugly ducks instead of one glorious swan and one relatively hot seagull. Of course, that makes about as much sense as half the stuff McCarver says.

Here’s some simple advice to Fox for next year: Lose the East Coast bias and cover the hell out of whichever teams you get from whatever city earns the right to play in the Fall Classic. Forget about fretting over ratings. You’ll get it all back in January with “American Idol” anyway.

E-mail chief television critic Tim Goodman at tim.goodman@thr.com.