Remember that episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” when WJM-TV hired as sportscaster an Olympic champion swimmer whose knowledge of other sports was embarrassingly limited? Or “WKRP in Cincinnati” newsman Les Nessman mispronouncing the name of pro golfer Chi-Chi Rodriguez? So, it appears, do the creators of “A Whole New Ballgame,” a new Monday night series from the folks who bring you “Coach.”
In the 8:30 Monday slot, NBC’s “Blossom” and “Dave’s World” on CBS seem secure.
The series, starring capable Corbin Bernsen as a baseball player-turned-sportscaster, featuresthree cast members retained from Bungalow 78 ‘s recent flop “Blue Skies,” and promises to fall into that show’s wake. A near-carbon of NBC’s “Wings,””Blue Skies” was more original than this one.
Echoes of “Mary Tyler Moore” and “WKRP” abound in the new series’ portrayal of a medium-market (Milwaukee) TV station, but they’re worse for wear.
Bright young female general manager Meg O’Donnell is played by Julia Campbell , nerdy and clownish weatherman Dr. Warner Brakefield by Stephen Tobolowsky, and brash sales manager Dwight Kling by Richard Kind; they’re the “Blue Skies” alumni, in parts not only reminiscent (and about as likable in various degrees) of those played in that series, but of earlier prototypes. In the Ted Baxter role of pompous anchorman is John O’Hurley as Tad Thurman.
The debut episode finds O’Donnell reluctantly hiring striking baseball player Brett Sooner (Bernsen) –“He’s a notorious womanizer … arrogant … always getting into trouble”– at the command of station owner Vernon Redfield (Peter Jason), who believes that “the public will find his kind of renegade honesty invigorating.”
Sooner lives up to O’Donnell’s expectations, but Bernsen isn’t Dabney Coleman , and “Ballgame” sure isn’t “Buffalo Bill.”
In addition to the station, the action takes place in a sports bar owned by Mickey (Shashawnee Hall) that’s full of testosterone-laden chaps who ridicule Sooner’s incompetence on his first broadcast. The comic possibilities are far from endless.