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SPORTVIEW

FSN team is showing a lot of hustle

Gary Tanguay and Greg Dickerson, cohosts of FSN's "New England Sports Tonight," were in the Houston airport, coming home from the Super Bowl, when a couple of fellow travelers said, "If you guys set off the alarm, we're going to have to chase you." A threat? Hardly. It was music to their ears, affirmation that the oft-shown FSN promo had done its job by helping create awareness of the two-year-old show.

The spot, showing fans chasing Gary and Greg around the Esplanade, was shot last summer on an 85-degree day. Dickerson was "fresh" off a fill-in 6-10 a.m. shift on WEEI's morning drive show. The pair survived the day-long filming that involved a dozen or more takes, then adjourned to FSN's Burlington studios for their own evening shows at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

"My legs were screaming," said Tanguay. "The two of us collapsed on couches in the lobby. We were totally dead between shows."

Fred Smerlas, often a "NEST" guest, got a laugh from the promo at the recent "Whiney Awards" by saying, "How many of you want that crew to catch 'em and beat the snot out of them?"

Life -- and circumstances -- beat them to it, taking a hard shot at FSN's local programming.

Tanguay is the lone survivor from "New England Sports Report," the half-hour nightly local sports news and feature show that was canceled in January 2002 when FSN's corporate parent pulled the plug on regional news shows all over the country.

In addition, FSN has a long-term TV deal with the Celtics, but the team hasn't drawn the sustained audiences to create a ratings synergy with the "NEST" cast, which serves as a pregame, halftime, and postgame show on weeknight games.

"Gary and Greg have a following. You can see a nightly ratings spike when the show comes on," said David Woodman, FSN's senior vice president and general manager.

During the Patriots fervor in January, "NEST" ratings went up 300 percent over the previous January, showing that people will seek out the show when there is compelling news.

When Woodman was looking for a way to maintain local programming after "NESR" was canceled, he looked at what was working in the market and for a niche to fill. "NEST" was the answer, starting a daily version of the Sunday night sports wrapup shows seen around the dial. Since then, CN8's "Sports Pulse," the Globe's "Sportsplus," and NESN's "Red Sox Inside Out" have used similar equations involving host, guest, opinion, analysis, and highlights. And NECN revamped its "Sports LateNight" with Chris Collins joining Mark Ockerbloom at the desk to add more opinion and analysis while retaining a more news-oriented format.

"We knew local sports fans want analysis and opinion," said Woodman in explaining how FSN modified the talk radio format to fit TV. Tanguay suggested Dickerson would make an ideal cohost, a partnership forged a decade earlier when they worked together at Worcester's WWTM radio. Executive producer Steve Reagan agreed.

"It's not a whole lot different from what WEEI radio did in 1991," said Tanguay. "They started with an idea and tweaked it as things went along. Then they got the Red Sox. We've been doing much the same thing." Part of that included forming an alliance with the Herald similar to the working agreement between the Globe and NESN.

So far, the Celtics haven't played the same role for FSN as the Sox have for WEEI and NESN. But Woodman said, "We're in this with them for the long haul. The Celtics' standard is a 17th banner, but we haven't given up on the short term, either."

FSN management has spent money on more than promos. Before the show launched, there were research and focus groups. Once the 6:30 p.m. show became established, the 10 p.m. sequel was added last June.

FSN built a temporary set in Fort Myers this past week at the DiamondHead Resort and encouraged live audiences, just as it did in Houston at the Super Bowl.

"We want to be more than the guys in the big chairs," said Dickerson. "We enjoyed having Richard Seymour of the Patriots on each week during the football season and are working on adding a Red Sox player where we can this summer. We know they watch the show; we want them on it, too."

A big challenge will be to keep their audience once Red Sox games begin nightly. The FSN crew has to get part of the Sox audience to change channels after the game. Sounds like it might be time for another promo.

The hits kept coming ESPN.com isn't releasing any numbers, but viewers attempting to register to use the site overwhelmed its capacity during last Sunday's premiere of "Dream Job." Round 2 of the live show comes at 10 tonight on ESPN. Week 1 posted a 1.3 national rating, including a 1.9 among ESPN's target 18- to 34-year-old male demographic . . . CSTV, the all-college network, has a documentary on "Huskymania" -- the state of Connecticut's love affair with UConn men's and women's basketball -- tonight at 5, with a re-airing at 9. CSTV at present is available on DirecTV plus Adelphia cable systems . . . ESPN is hoping sex sells, as it starts a five-part "SportsCenter" series tonight at 10:30 examining sex and sports . . . Here's one show not many Americans will see: Suffolk Downs race caller Larry Collmus will be in England this week, doing studio appearances Tuesday and Wednesday on "attheraces," Britain's dedicated horse racing channel on Sky Network. He'll also be the guest caller at Wolverhampton, near Birmingham, on Friday . . . Curt Schilling will be pitching (shilling?) for Dunkin' Donuts' new maple cheddar sandwich (egg, sausage, and cheese) in a series of spots beginning tomorrow . . . NASCAR is off this week, but the IRL has its season opener today (ESPN, 2 p.m.) from Miami. Paul Page, Scott Goodyear, and Jack Arute are the core commentators for ESPN and ESPN2 . . . AFL anyone? Today's Philadelphia-Tampa Bay game (Channel 7, 3 p.m.) will feature miked Philly owner Jon Bon Jovi interacting with play-by-play man Bob Papa and analyst Ray Bentley. And Colorado CEO and part-owner John Elway will be this week's studio guest, joining host Al Trautwig and analyst Glenn Parker for the pregame, halftime, and postgame segments.

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

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