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SPORTVIEW

Ratings say Red Sox are team to watch

Wednesday night's Red Sox-Angels game was the highest-rated telecast in NESN's 20-year history, returning a 15.1 rating in the Boston market. The audience peaked at an 18.8 rating during the quarter-hour beginning at 9 p.m.

That big rating came on the heels of Tuesday night's 13.3 Sox-Angels rating, which set a one-day record for NESN's highest rating for a non-Sox-Yankees telecast.

The all-time top Sox rating -- at least in the era since the advent of cable television -- was the 18.8 for last month's ESPN "Sunday Night Baseball" telecast of the Sox-Yankees. Behind that are a pair of Channel 25 telecasts of Sox-Yankees games that posted 16.3 and 16.2 marks.

Last night's wrap-up of the Sox-Angels series went head-to-head with the Patriots-Jaguars exhibition on Channel 5, which was certain to cut into the audience for each game.

The Sox are home all weekend against the Rangers, starting with tonight's Channel 38 telecast at 7, and continuing on NESN tomorrow at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 2.

After that comes a viewing downer: six straight 10 p.m. starts from Oakland and Seattle, starting Monday against the Athletics.

Huddle up

Comcast subscribers with digital plus service in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine should be able to tune in to Channel 265 this morning and find the NFL Network.

One way Comcast will maximize its carriage of the channel is by placing the channel's highlight shows in the cable company's "On Demand" service, with a special "button" for the NFL Network. Plans are to use the channel to show expanded highlights of regular-season games, to replay NFL Films features, and two "Games of the Week," both in high definition, that will become available the Wednesday following the weekend's action.

Bryant aftermath

Colorado District Attorney Mark Hurlbert's decision to drop the felony sexual assault charges against Kobe Bryant brought amazing broadcast reactions.

From the beginning, the story was nasty. There was the he-said, she-said nature of the case that hinged on the question of whether there was consensual sex or rape, a focal point that defense lawyers blurred with all sorts of ancillary information and charges.

There also was the black man/white woman racial angle and the nearly all-white makeup of potential jury pools in Eagle, Colo.

Wednesday night on ESPN, Jim Gray reported on the decision and the reaction in the Bryant camp. ESPN promoted his report as having exclusive access to the Bryant defense team. Instead, it seemed the defense had exclusive access to a pipeline to get its message out on ESPN's "SportsCenter."

Gray came off as a spokesman/apologist for Bryant in a one-sided report that never acknowledged there might have been a second side to the case.

Gray's report took the position that many people have been wrongly accused of crimes and wound up in jail, and there was no jury of Bryant's peers in Eagle, Colo. And, if Bryant were offered a way out with no admission of guilt or plea entered, why wouldn't he sign the apology?

Gray also helped the Bryant camp set a public position for its defense in the pending civil case against Bryant. "Bryant said no deals are in place, there have been no discussions between the parties, and Bryant had no plans to pay off this person and would vehemently defend himself in the civil trial," Gray said.

However, that being said, the late-night "Outside the Lines," with host Bob Ley, showed ESPN's strength at reacting to a news story on the fly as the staff jettisoned a planned Sox-Yankees rivalry piece to focus on the Bryant legal decision.

Tennis, anyone?

CBS is airing its US Open coverage -- 11 a.m.-6 p.m. tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday -- in high definition with both the standard definition and HD viewers seeing the same feed. USA has coverage today at 11 a.m. and continues at 7 p.m. In between? Deutsche Bank golf from Norton from 5-7 p.m. USA also has golf coverage tomorrow from 3-6 p.m. with ABC (Channel 5) covering Sunday (5-7 p.m.) and Monday (3-6 p.m.). Channel 5 also plans a local wrap-up of the tournament Monday at 7:30 p.m. . . . Back to tennis: CBS (and USA) analyst John McEnroe is a big fan of moving the US Open men's final to Sunday or Monday night in prime time and not necessarily for the "bigger audience" reasons that it would appeal to TV. "It would give the players more time to recover. It's tough to play Saturday's best-of-five [sets], then come right back and play again Sunday afternoon," he said. "It's a change I've been pushing for. It's the proper way to end the Open and a way to get better tennis. What's this, the fourth year the women have had their final at night?" It is. This year's women's final is scheduled for 8 p.m. next Saturday with the men Sunday at 4 p.m., leaving CBS an early-afternoon NFL window . . . CBS4's Dan Roche was host of WBCN's (104.1-FM) pre- and postgame Patriots shows last night, sitting in for Gary Tanguay, absent following his father's death . . . ESPN is doing its first HD tripleheader tomorrow with college football kicking off in full force: Central Florida-Wisconsin at noon, Oregon State-Louisiana State at 6 p.m., and Notre Dame-Brigham Young at 9:15 p.m. . . . The opener of tomorrow's soccer doubleheader at Gillette Stadium between the United States and El Salvador will be telecast on Fox Sports World and Telemundo at 4 p.m. The Revolution-San Jose nightcap will be on WEEI radio (850-AM, 103.7-FM) at 6:30 p.m. with Brad Feldman on play-by-play and Adrian Healey on color. A taped broadcast of the Revolution game will be on ESPN2 at 1:30 a.m. with Rob Stone, Eric Wynalda, and Lorrie Fair . . . ESPN is offering its expanded college football PPV "Game Plan" service ($119 for the season, $19.95 per weekend). Details at www.espnpayperview.com . . . Comcast is repackaging the remainder of MLB's "Extra Innings" out-of-town games PPV deal as a "Pennant Race" package for $39 . . . Boston's final Olympic viewership -- a 13.9 rating and 25 share -- ranked the country's sixth-largest market No. 48 among the 55 metered markets during the Games. That's more a commentary on the suddenly hot Red Sox than the lack of interest in the Olympics . . . Another final tally -- for WEEI's Radiothon -- will be revealed before tonight's Sox-Rangers game when the station's Julie Kahn, Jason Wolfe, and John Dennis present a check in the neighborhood of $1,565,000 to the Jimmy Fund.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com

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