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O'Brien's role changes with hour

For 17 years, Pat O'Brien was known as the sports guy on CBS. He covered everything from Super Bowls to the NCAA Tournament to major league baseball to the NBA to the US Open tennis championship. Then in 1997, he left to start an entertainment program in Los Angeles called ``Access Hollywood."

He kept his hand in sports, reporting on the Olympic Games in Sydney for CNBC and in Athens for MSNBC and NBC. Then it was back to entertainment as he began hosting ``The Insider" in 2004.

Now he's back with CBS Sports, but he still has a foot in both worlds as he tapes ``The Insider" from Times Square by day and hosts the ``US Open Late Night Show" from Flushing Meadows by night.

O'Brien admits the juxtaposition is an interesting one.

``I go from talking to Barry Manilow to Andre Agassi," O'Brien said earlier this week.

Or, as he put it, ``I feel like an old-time ballplayer who pitches one game and goes out and catches the next one of a doubleheader."

O'Brien started working for CBS as a courtside reporter at the US Open in 1981, and eventually hosted the ``US Open Late Night Show," which recaps the day's matches.

``When I left, Sean McManus, who was just taking over as head of CBS Sports, said, `We're both young men, we'll work together again,' and sure enough, here we are."

McManus, now president of CBS News and Sports, said it made sense to have O'Brien host the late-night show that features entertainment as much as it does tennis; the Gin Blossoms performed the other night.

``We try to make it fun, and thought Pat's had a pretty high profile in sports and thought we might add some different flavor, and so far it's worked out really well," McManus said.

O'Brien, 58, said he has no problem going from entertainment to sports ``because there's no line anymore between the two. Sports stars are entertainers, and entertainers want to be in sports."

Consider that musician Jon Bon Jovi, who dropped by a recent Patriots practice, owns an arena football team, or that athletes often appear cracking jokes on late-night TV.

``But I think it's good," O'Brien said. ``I think it's that the American public realizes that, so they can't get enough of this celebrity world, and sports is part of that."

That blurred line has become the mainstay for Michael Barkann , the former Ch. 56 sports anchor who works for Comcast in Philadelphia and is a reporter for USA Network during the Open.

Barkann, in his 16th year working for USA, was told when he started that he didn't need to know tennis, just to do fun interviews, like a chat with the hamburger vendor.

``But as the years went on, I went from doing the sillier stuff to doing pre- and postmatch interviews with the players," Barkann said.

So he has one eye on the court, and the other in the stands, looking to corral Elle McPherson or Phil Collins. Perhaps his biggest coup came years ago when he interviewed Barbra Streisand when she called then-boyfriend Agassi a Zen master.

So it's not just about tennis at the Open, he said.

``It's a big balancing act, because one minute you're sitting up there with John Madden and the next minute you've got to be on court interviewing Maria Sharapova," said Barkann.

He didn't need to say which was more appealing.

Extending boundaries
CN8 will be expanding its sports programming, starting Tuesday, with live shows of ``Out Of Bounds" airing weekdays at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. The early show will originate from Philadelphia and will be hosted by Gregg Murphy and have regular contributors, including WEEI's Michael Holley. The later version, which will be based in Boston, will be co-hosted by Phil Burton and John Carchedi. Among the regular contributors will be Ron Borges of the Globe . . . Fox will air ``LSU in the Eye of the Storm" Sunday at 9 p.m. The documentary about the LSU football team, and how the university dealt with Hurricane Katrina, is narrated by John Goodman, an Emmy-nominated actor and Louisiana resident . . . The classic boxing matches are back, thanks to the extensive fight video library of Top Rank. On Thursday at 9 p.m ., OLN will air the Jan. 28, 1974 fight between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden. In the classic bout, referee Tony Perez mistakenly stopped the fight with 20 seconds left in the second round. By the time Perez realized his mistake, it was too late and Ali controlled the rest of the fight. This is the third of the OLN series ``Fight Night: Top Rank's Legends in the Ring" . . . CBS Sports senior vice president of programming Rob Correa said he wasn't at all surprised when the network had high ratings for the Bridgestone Invitational PGA tournament last weekend, featuring a four-hole playoff between Stewart Cink and Tiger Woods. ``Tiger still delivers," Correa said. ``He's clearly the guy who draws in the casual golf fan."

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