04/30/2002 11:00PM

NBC stresses live pre-race coverage


NEW YORK - NBC-TV's Kentucky Derby coverage this year will be light on pre-produced features and heavy on live coverage of pre-race events, according to the producer of the broadcast, David Michaels. This will be a departure from Derby broadcasts of the recent past.

Michaels, who has produced the last 10 broadcasts of the Breeders' Cup for NBC, including last year's 5 1/2-hour, Emmy Award-winning telecast, said on Tuesday that his production crew has scheduled only three features this year, down from five last year and, he added, "probably less features than in any other year in history."

The Kentucky Derby had been broadcast on ABC-TV for 26 years until NBC took over last year.

"The Derby is a tremendous live event," Michaels said on Tuesday. "It's a tremendous live scene, and we want to bring that sense of it to people. We want to bring across what it feels like to be at the Derby, to be involved in everything that is going on."

This year's Derby broadcast is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Eastern, and will run until 6:30. Post time for the Derby is 6:04 p.m..

Viewers of the Kentucky Derby broadcast have gotten used to the broadcast offering up a string of soft-edged features in the hour preceding the race coverage, especially in the latter years of ABC's contract. At times, the feature coverage has dominated the broadcast, Michaels said, interrupting the narrative of the events leading up to the actual race.

"These days," Michaels said, "it seems like anytime you go to tape you are interrupting something."

To fill the time, Michaels said that three reporters - Derby broadcast veterans Mike Neumeier and Mike Battaglia and newcomer Kenny Rice, who has worked on the network's Breeders' Cup broadcasts - will focus on live interviews and film of Derby participants either on the backside or on their way to the paddock.

The Derby broadcast will also be influenced by the composition of this year's field, which is perhaps the most wide open in at least a decade. No clear-cut favorite has emerged from the 20 entrants, leaving NBC with tough choices about how much time to devote to introducing each individual horse in the field.

"There's never enough time to really get into as much as we want on every horse," Michaels said. "It never fails. But it's like that any year. There's never enough time."

During the race coverage, NBC will use isolated cameras for replay purposes on six of the 20 Derby horses, up from four last year. The selections of which horses will be isolated will be determined at a meeting with the production staff on Friday night, Michaels said.

"That's always the longest argument of the whole week," Michaels said. "Everyone has an opinion. It's always so tough. Then we have to decide: Have we got the stalkers? Have we got the closers? You obviously want to be on the winner, but at the same time, you want to be on the horses that are going to be significant to the running of the race."