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truTV ready for its closeup

FILE - in this Aug. 13, 2010 file

FILE - in this Aug. 13, 2010 file photo, Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Charles Barkley, representing the 1992 USA Olympic "Dream" Team, pats his heart as he speaks during the enshrinement news conference at the Hall of Fame Museum in Springfield, Mass. One result of the NCAA's new deal with CBS and Turner Sports to televise the men's basketball tournament is that TNT NBA announcers such as Charles Barkley will be now analyzing college games. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) Photo Credit: AP

It’s time again to locate truTV on your channel lineup, what with 13 NCAA games set for the network.

First up for the Channel Formerly Known as Court TV, though, is Hardcore Brackets at 7 p.m. Sunday, a show featuring Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, who last year appeared on a too-crowded CBS set to talk brackets.

Barkley said he is looking forward to it, and said for the most part he found it “very easy’’ last March to transition to talking college rather than NBA hoops.

“It was fun,’’ he said. “Well, after the first two [full] days it was fun. The first two days were brutal.’’

Before last year’s NCAAs, Barkley said he planned to use his new forum to talk about the importance of athletes at least getting a legitimate education while earning millions for their schools on the court.

It didn’t take long for him to discover there is no time for that sort of discussion on the air with all that is going on around the country. “We’re just really pregame, halftime, next game,’’ he said. “So we do not have a chance to do any in-depth discussions. I didn’t get to talk about it much, or at all.’’

Barkley did say, though, that he spoke to NCAA and school officials off the air to lobby for more attention to the academic side of major college sports.

“Behind the scenes they were very receptive,’’ he said. “Man, I don’t care who wins these games. But somebody is making a lot of money. I’m not an idiot. My only concern is these kids getting their education, plain and simple.

“We’re making a lot of money, they’re making a lot of money but we have a moral obligation for these kids to get their education. That’s all I care about . . . They say they’re going to make some changes. We’ll see.’’

The men who oversee CBS and Turner Sports, Sean McManus and David Levy, said last spring’s tournament, the first in which the two media entities between them showed all 67 games, was such a success that the biggest concern in Year Two is complacency.

“We set the bar really high last year,’’ McManus said. “There was a lot of uncertainty about how it was going to work. I quite frankly thought it was going to take the viewer longer to kind of figure out and appreciate the system. They got it immediately.’’

McManus was not the only one with that concern, but it proved mostly unwarranted. “I think there’s a tendency to underestimate the intelligence and capability of the viewer,’’ he said. “If you’re a basketball fan and want to see the Syracuse or Duke game, you’re going to find that game, and you’re going to find it immediately.’’

The biggest logistical change this season is online, where the old “March Madness on Demand’’ has morphed into “March Madness Live.’’ To get the full functionality of the old MMOD, such as bouncing around at will to different games, one must now pay $3.99.

Here is where it gets better (and more complicated): Fans still can watch live online streams for free on the website of whatever TV network the game is on.

So, for example, any game being shown on CBS can be watched on But games shown on one of the Turner networks will require fans to authenticate the fact they are subscribers to a television service that includes the Turner networks – something for which the vast majority of households in the New York area qualify.

Got that?

Anyway, after the truTV bracket show, the channel will premiere a documentary executive produced by Grant Hill and Christian Laettner called “Duke 91 & 92: Back to Back,’’ whose title is self-explanatory.

Sunday’s premiere showing runs 60 minutes; a 90-minute version will be shown March 16.

Having covered both of Duke’s NCAA championship victories, what struck (and bummed me out) the most about the documentary was how old these guys now are. If they’re middle-aged men, what does that make me?

Beyond that, the storytelling is straightforward in the extreme, with limited insights beyond some discussion of the off-court tensions between Laettner and Bobby Hurley.

The longer version does a better job of adding context and nuance, so if you’re interested in this topic I’d suggest waiting until then.

As the documentary recounts, Michigan’s Fab Five freshmen of 1992 were no match on the court for Duke in the NCAA final. But the 2011 documentary about that team, executive produced by its point guard, Jalen Rose, was a far more entertaining television program.

It was in that show that Rose said, “I hated Duke and I hated everything Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn't recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.’’

Hill responded with a scathing column in The New York Times, in which he called Rose’s comments “sad and pathetic.’’


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