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CH. 4 CUTS SHORT OPEN COVERAGE, ANGERS NET FANS

In an incredibly shortsighted move that illustrates that the almighty dollar can overcome common sense, Channel 4 bailed out of the epic U.S. Open semifinal tennis match at 6:30 p.m. Friday between Martina Hingis and Venus Williams to run its local news and taped Buffalo Bills programming.

The decision by General Manager Lou Verruto sparked numerous calls to the CBS affiliate and some calls to its rival stations.

Hingis won the three-set match, which was called an "epic" battle by CBS commentators and was one of the most anticipated matches of the two-week competition.

Channel 4 eventually ran a crawl that announced it was going to carry the match on tape at about 2 a.m. And Channel 4 did carry Saturday's history-making championship victory by Venus' sister, Serena, over Hingis. It was the first U.S. Open title victory by an African-American woman in 41 years.

Verruto decided to pull the plug early during the Friday semifinal -- which had been delayed for hours by rain -- in order to carry the heavily-promoted new program, "The Wade Phillips Show," on schedule. The coach's show was followed by a Bills special and the Bills 1998 highlights film.

"If I had to make a decision between tennis and Buffalo Bills programming, I'd go with the Bills every day," said Verruto. "The tennis was delayed by rain. I can't control everything. It was a tough decision to make."

Tennis isn't normally a big draw and CBS said that Verruto wasn't the only general manager of a CBS station to bail out of Friday's semifinal. But his argument ignores the significance of the Hingis-Venus Williams match and the fact that there is so much Bills programming available that coach's shows and highlights shows aren't exactly big draws. The highlights program can be checked out at your local library.

Tennis fans might have expected Verruto to carry the live semifinal coverage of America's most important tennis event and carry the Phillips show and other taped programming after it. Besides being later in prime time when the audience is larger, the Bills programming would have had the benefit of a lead-in from a compelling sporting event.

"The advertisers expected it to run when we told them it would run," said Verruto. "It would be nice to say money doesn't matter, but it does. We promoted two solid hours of Bills programming for three weeks."

He added that if he had the same decision to make today, he would do the same thing.

"I'm going to do nine novenas and hope I never have to make a decision like that the rest of my broadcasting career," said Verruto.

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