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That's a wrap at Fox

'Sports Sunday' wrap-up show to come to an end

Channel 25 has decided to cancel "Sports Sunday," the half-hour weekly wrap-up show that has had an eight-year run following the Fox affiliate's 10 p.m. news. A week from Sunday will be the final episode.

The move, says station vice president and news director Lisa Graham, will "give us a one-hour newscast at 10 p.m. every night of the week."

History will show that "Sports Sunday" is being dropped for financial and personnel considerations -- not for lack of quality or lack of viewers. It had both, and distinguished itself by bringing the passion of host Butch Stearns to the local sports scene.

"Sports Sunday" regularly produced solid ratings while competing with the 11:30 p.m. sports shows, Channel 7's "Sports Xtra" and Channel 4's "Sports Final." This remained the case after Stearns was joined by co-host Rob Nikoleski. The drop-off in quality was minimal even after the loss of staffer Levan Reid (to Washington, D.C.) 13 months ago, producer Joe Gisa (to "Red Sox This Week" on Channel 38) this winter, and videographer Bob Goodale, who contributed a weekly "Sunday Best" segment until he left for personal production opportunities last year.

Dropping the show means "Fox25" is committed to continuing with a two-person sports department, reflecting the less-sports-is-OK national trend on local newscasts. You can trace the atrophy of the station's sports emphasis to the loss of the Red Sox TV rights two seasons ago.

Looking ahead, this move means Stearns and Nikoleski will compete for space in the hourlong news at 10. "What it means for us is that every night is as important as Sunday," said Stearns. "When I came here, I wanted to be part of the Sunday scene. I'll still be part of it, but now every night is Sunday for us."

Nikoleski has a knack for features. He won a New England Emmy last Sunday for "Backyard Baseball," his story about folks who've built Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium replicas. "We'll keep doing those stories and incorporating them in the news show," said Graham.

The ever-shrinking sports segments on the local news have left a void that Fox Sports Net's "New England Sports Report," CN8's "Sports Pulse," and perhaps an early version of NESN's "SportsDesk" are looking to fill. Question is, how big is the audience?

Regardless, let it be said that "Sports Sunday" will be missed.

Moving pictures

Changes are afoot at Channel 5, too. The Patriots have hired "NewsCenter 5" sports producer Matt Smith to become the executive producer of video operations for the Kraft family's properties. As such, he'll continue to work with his former Channel 5 colleagues in producing "Patriots All Access," a collaboration of the team's technical staff and the station's on-air talent -- Mike Lynch, Mike Dowling, and Bob Halloran.

However, the unspoken and unannounced potential of this move signals expansion of the team's television programming. The Patriots, under the guidance of vice chairman Jonathan Kraft, have been in the forefront of NFL print and Internet development, not to mention the launch of the NFL Network. It's only logical to think there are plans for a major regional TV initiative as well.

Smith, who had been at Channel 5 for 18 years -- "my entire professional life" -- didn't make the move lightly. "The team, the family, the organization -- it's all first-class," he said. "The Krafts indicated they want to add some programming around their existing properties, and I looked at it as a wonderful opportunity."

Meanwhile, Channel 5 seems to be moving in the same direction as Channel 25 in integrating sports into the news operation, rather than leaving it as a separate operation. Longtime Channel 5 sports director Mike Fernandez is shifting responsibilities to become news operations manager.

Holley to the max

Fox Sports Net yesterday introduced Michael Holley, most recently of these pages, as a cohost of "I, Max," the Max Kellerman show that makes its debut Monday at 6 p.m. . . . The Major League Baseball season is a marathon for players, fans at the ballpark, and TV viewers. Last summer's Sam Adams/NESN Announcer for an Inning Competition winners, Walter Levy and Todd Bloniarz, provided plenty of human interest fodder for viewers. And NESN and Sam Adams are running the promotion again this year. The contest will run through August, with the winner working an inning of the Sept. 21 Orioles-Red Sox game. Go to www.samadams.com for details . . . How strong was interest in the Red Sox this April? The games averaged a 9.1 rating on NESN, with a 3.9 for the postgame show. A year ago, the average was 5.6 in April . . . Baseball doesn't hesitate to schedule games on Good Friday and Easter, and the NFL has games on Christmas this year. So kudos to NASCAR, which takes Easter and Mother's Day off. Fox's NASCAR ratings have topped the NBA the past two Sunday afternoons. Last Sunday's race in California did a 6.1 national rating, compared with a 4.9 for Lakers-Spurs. The week before, the big race at Talladega did a 6.3 to a 4.8 for the Lakers-Rockets OT game. In Boston, the numbers were skewed by Sox interest, but NASCAR beat Lakers-Spurs, 3.3-1.9, last Sunday, and Talladega beat Lakers-Rockets, 2.9-1.6, the previous week . . . Smarty Jones is the first Kentucky Derby winner to grace Sports Illustrated's cover since Sunny's Halo in 1983.

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

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