- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

It remains to be seen just how much of a new look an old favorite will get before we pass judgment, but ESPN has announced that it will bring back the once super popular "American Sportsman" TV series Sept.9 at 8p.m.

What worries us is that ESPN says the 1960s, '70s, and '80s ABC hit needed a new look. Why would it need a new look?

ABC aired "American Sportsman" on weekends normally thought to be a poor choice because so many recreational anglers and hunters are on the water or afield. All the same, executive producer Roone Arledge surrounded himself with top-of-the-heap line producers who weren't afraid to show exciting hunting and fishing segments with guests whose names were known the world over. The show was a smash and despite lousy Sunday afternoon time slots, we often stayed indoors to watch the outdoors that's how good it was.

So now ESPN will give it a shot. "American Sportsman," in ESPN's words, "has been reimagined, with segments ranging from tarpon fishing with legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus to a photo safari with actor Greg Kinnear."

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but when I hear that Greg Kinnear will go on a photo safari it gives me the jitters. You see, during the early days of ABC's "American Sportsman," you'd get to see a real safari with hunters tracking down, say, an aggressive cape buffalo in tall savannah grass. It was exciting television for millions of people who understand hunting. But I also recall an '80s segment with model Cheryl Tiegs doing a photo safari no guns, no possibility of blood, no shooting. Or Robert Redford talking endlessly about wolves. Talking, talking, blabber, blabber. It was awful.

It wasn't long thereafter that the ABC show folded its tent.

The die had been cast. After years of good ratings and loyal audiences, some noodle neck at the network thought the old "American Sportsman" needed a new look. Suddenly, the segments took on a touchy-feely aura, a "come everybody, let's do a group hug" kind of thing.

Bang. The show crash-dived.

And what does ESPN promise? "We're doing a photo safari with Greg Kinnear." How lovely.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could turn back the clock and get Phil Harris, Curt Gowdy, John Forsythe and Bing Crosby on the screen, shooting pheasants in South Dakota, stalking African big game, chasing after Hungarian partridges and prairie chickens, maybe casting to a bonefish or hooking a swamp bass in Louisiana or huddling in a duck blind in Arkansas, shotguns at the ready as several hundred mallards circle above?

Mind you, we don't really know whether ESPN plans to do a carbon copy of the early years of the "American Sportsman" or whether it wants to do a swan dive into a TV netherworld in which photo safaris, mushroom farming and stocking aquariums with guppies inevitably end up.

Let's wait and see.

Anglers happy with new commissioners The Coastal Conservation Association's Virginia division is happy with Gov.Mark Warner's appointment of a recreational angler and a scientist to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to replace commissioners whose terms had expired.

Russell Garrison of Colonial Heights is an avid outdoorsman and recreational fisherman. Garrison previously has served on the state's Game Commission, so he's no stranger to resource management.

The other appointee, Cynthia Jones, is a scientist at Old Dominion University. She is widely recognized for her fisheries research and is regarded as one of the most knowledgeable scientists in the state.

The Coastal Conservation Association's Jim Haydon said, "The CCA is delighted with these two noncommercial appointments. The governor listened to the thousands of letters calling for balance on the VMRC. It is obvious that his administration is committed to conserving and restoring our natural resources. A balanced commission will benefit all Virginians."

Virginia has less than 3,000 licensed watermen and more than 500,000 saltwater recreational fishermen, yet the eight-member VMRC that regulates Virginia's marine resources has been overwhelmingly dominated by commercial interests that frequently cared only for putting fish on ice in supermarkets far and wide. As a result, various species populations have been in a downward spiral that can only be halted if sport anglers demand tough conservation laws, even catch moratoriums if necessary.

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