The veteran sportscaster will serve as on-site studio host for pre-game and post-game coverage of the National League Championship Series on Warner’s TBS cable network, marking the first time Costas has worked game coverage for the media conglomerate. He already hosts a sports-journalism program, “Back On The Record,” on Warner’s HBO, and contributes to its CNN news network.
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“It’s my job to kind of move everything along, be the traffic cop asking a few good questions,” Costas says in an interview. He has been calling and analyzing the sport since the 1980s, first for NBC and more recently for the MLB Network. Talks between Costas and Turner Sports were previously reported in August by the New York Post.
“Bob’s passion for baseball is undeniable,” says Craig Barry, Turner Sports’ chief content officer, in an interview. “At the end of the day, he’s going to elevate our broadcast.”
Costas will be joined by Pedro Martinez, Jimmy Rollins and Curtis Granderson, all of whom, he believe, will be doing more of the hard work than he will. “It’s easier to host than it is to do play by play,” says Costas, who intends to focus on “the big picture stuff. “There’s much less pressure involved.”
But Turner is eager to stand apart this month. The company is launching its first season of coverage of the NHL under a new rights contract, while also telecasting post-season MLB games and debuting a new season of NBA coverage. The earlier start to the NBA season meant that Ernie Johnson, who is part of “NBA on TNT” and normally serves as Turner’s baseball host, had to be in two places at once, typically an impossibility. Costas is stepping in this year.
His trip to Turner was made easier by one of the relationships he’s built over the course of his career. When Costas was working the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul for NBC Sports, he and Bryant Gumbel were assisted by a young researcher named Jeff Zucker. Costas must have done right by his early-career colleague, because he says Zucker, now chairman of WarnerMedia’s news and sports operations, extended to Costas both the chance to work as a contributor at CNN and the post-season hosting role. Costas intends to maintain his duties at MLB Network, which also involve some post-season responsibilities, including Friday’s telecast of an American League Divisional Series between the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox.
Working the NLCS brings with it some unique mandates, Costas says. “The games are more important, but also, I’ve always been aware of this back when I was doing World Series games for NBC, you’re bringing in not just more avid fans, but you are also bringing in more casual fans,” he adds. “A lot of folks are arriving and they’re not fully up to speed.” That requires doing more work to frame the match-up early on in the series, he says.
He’s also prepared to have to explain potential fan reaction to a post-season Astros team. As most fans know, the Houston team was found to have used strategically placed cameras to read signals between catchers and pitchers prior to the 2020 season. With fans more fully in stands as the nation emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, Costas thinks the Astros might still hear some noise about it, even though the team has faced sanctions and lawsuits. Some teams that could be involved in post-season play “have a real gripe with the Astros,” he says, and announcers may have to explain stadium noise to viewers at home.
Costas’ presence will give Turner Sports a troika of popular expert hosts for its fall portfolio, says Barry, with Johnson working NBA, Costas at NLCS, and Liam McHugh, the popular former co-host of NBC’s “Football Night in America,” lending a hand with new hockey coverage.
Might Costas return to do more for Turner down the road? “Bob’s passion for baseball is undeniable and his love for the game and his ability to contribute to the broadcast, I think it is something we are interested in,” says Barry. “He has a longstanding relationship with Jeff, and I think that has played to our benefit to have an opportunity to partner with him and we are excited to see if that’s a fit.”
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