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IN TELEVISION TALK, 'SPORTS EXTRA' RISES ABOVE THE REST WHEN 'ED AND THE BOYS' DISCUSS SPORTS, THEY FILL A VOID IN LOCAL COMMENTARY

IT ISN'T as if the world provides inadequate subjects. With enough committed and well-informed people, you could discuss anything on television: Whether bisexuality, masturbation and far too much carnal knowledge are featured in Madonna's banned new video, or whether it's all a figment of Jesse Helms' imagination; or perhaps whether Simon and Schuster's cancellation of Bret Easton Ellis' forthcoming book "American Psycho" amounted to a gestapo escalation in the relentless progress of America's taste police.

A bulging portfolio of subjects is open for talkers on local TV. But all you really get from local stations are football and hockey and the usual subjects for TV's community service ghettos. I guess we ought to be grateful for that.

Talk from people who really know what they're talking about is one of the most fascinating things television does. Yes, yes, yes, I know it's not very visual, but almost everything else on television is, which makes genuinely good talk something of a relief.

All of which brings up one of my favorite programs in all of local television: Channel 2's "Sunday Sports Extra," especially the last 90 seconds of it when "Ed and the Boys" (translation: Ed Kilgore and the rest of Channel 2's sports staff) shoot the breeze about that weekend's sporting contests.

Are the NFL thugs out to chop-block Bruce Smith in every game, and what, short of Ralph Wilson hiring out some contract hits, can be done about it? Do the Sabres have a chance to salvage community respect, or are they skating on thin ice?

And that's about it as far as local TV news goes in offering up subjects about which intelligent people could disagree.

Think of the community issues that could benefit from ample debate on television -- funding for the Buffalo Philharmonic, for instance, and the orchestra's chances of survival in a world in which classical music culture is clearly ailing.

Talk is a staple everywhere else on TV. What Oprah, Geraldo and Sally Jessy Raphael can't get around to, the people on "This Week With David Brinkley" or Channel 17's "Inside Washington" or CNN's "The Capital Gang" will thrash over.

The way local channels work it, though, intelligent and meaningful talk is what happens out of town.

"Sunday Sports Extra" is fascinating for a simple reason. What you're hearing is an incredibly rare sound in local television -- the sound of people who know and care a good deal about a subject having their say.

It is fast becoming the only local TV news report I actually look forward to. It's so fresh that you wonder why Channel 2 doesn't double the length of the show -- or at the very least quadruple the length of time "Ed and the Boys" have their round-table discussion of whatever sports issues arise on a particular Sunday.

Channel 4's Sunday sports reports usually feature Brian Blessing or Van Miller talking over that Sunday's Bills action in fine style, and those, too, could easily benefit from being three or four times as long (with the game rehashes reduced to half the length).

It's an old problem with TV news: The sports mavens are the only ones regularly encouraged to comment on the world they know and cover. And even they are generally not encouraged much.

Everyone else in local TV news either has to play it straight or do feature stories from the only two angles that are permitted in local TV news: cutesy-pie and sob sister. Neither stark, uninflected reportage nor powerful committed commentary is allowed. The consultants just won't have it.

Such commentary as is prominent in local TV news is usually the impersonation of commentary. Violent opinions are launched for the sake of dramatic effect, not necessarily because they represent anything the opinioneer really wants to say, or, for that matter, a subject truly cared for.

They are like hobby horses being ridden into the ground, or bad community theater productions.

That, for instance, is what puts Ch. 7's Jerry Azar so far down the list of local TV sports mavens -- and what puts Channel 2's "Sports Extra" in a class by itself.

From time to time, Irv Weinstein has taken to cleaning out the back rooms of his brain in public. But the only non-sports commentary on TV news treated with any urgency these days is defensive newspaper-bashing (and when you see the TV ads soliciting newspaper advertising dollars and hear about declining local TV station revenues around the country, you can figure out why urgency might overcome good sense).

I'm not exactly holding Ed Kilgore, Mike DeGeorge, Stu Boyar and Wes Goforth up as paragons of journalistic wit and virtue, but at least they really know and care about what they're discussing. And in the landscape of local TV news, that's more than enough.

In an ideal world, of course, they'd get a bigger table and set a few more places at it for Van Miller, Brian Blessing and the first-rate sportswriters for this newspaper. And they'd all have a weekly bull session for public consumption.

In the real world, though, talk isn't cheap. It's licensed, bought, paid for and doled out by the teaspoon. And, as with everything else on TV, it's a competitive ploy and not a better way to cover the world.

When they say, then, that talk is a TV sports extra, they're not kidding.

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