Monday, January 9, 2012

Game Time: The Professional Bowlers Tour (1961-1997)

Those of us who spend our down time on the bowling lanes probably learned the sport from watching ABC's Professional Bowlers Tour, a Saturday afternoon staple during the winter & spring from 1961-1997. Back then, bowling was actually a popular sport, but that popularity has taken a massive downturn in recent years.

For four months, the tour served as a lead-in for ABC's other Saturday attraction, Wide World of Sports, although there were a few occasions where the air times were flipped over, and Wide World would air first, especially if a tournament was being contested on the West Coast. It wasn't always live, either. In its early years, the tournaments were shown on tape delay, but viewer demand prompted the change to a live format. Additionally, in those early years, the TV finals had four bowlers, three of whom competed in round-robin format to determine who'd face the first-place bowler for the championship. Sometime in the late 60's or early 70's, ABC switched to the stepladder format, adding a 5th man to the mix, while retaining the 90 minute fomat.

Bowlingfan33 uploaded this sample from the 1971 Buckeye Open.

After 14 years away, the tour returned to ABC a year ago for a 1-shot special to mark the 50th anniversary of the PBA debuting on the network. Today, the tournaments are once again on tape delay, airing on ABC's cable step-cousin, ESPN, while truncated classic reruns air on, of course, ESPN Classic. To paraphrase an old slogan, bowling never gets old.

Rating: A.


R.A.M.'67 said...

I remember watching the last several years of ABC's coverage until it was dropped.

Of course, any enjoyment gotten from the matches depended on how many of the top-ranked players were on during the televised matches and the rare occasions when perfect games were bowled. Tournaments varied in fun from week to week, which might partly explain why ABC finally stopped the weekly broadcasts.

Most of all, let's remember the late Chris Schenkel, who covered a lot of those games (most often with bowler Nelson "Bo" Burton, Jr.). He was to bowling what Cosell was to boxing, except he wasn't annoying! :o)

hobbyfan said...

ABC finally gave it up because the ratings went down due to people becoming more interested in other pursuits.

There was a time when Chris Schenkel also covered golf and other sports, and thus had to miss some tournaments. In those days, Bud Palmer or another announcer would sub. Those were the days, man.

magicdog said...

I used to watch this with my mom!

We were both bowlers and I learned all about who was who on this show!

It's a shame it's all but gone now.

hobbyfan said...

I still play the game. It's just that the marketing nerds at the networks are convinced Joe Average is more interested in something trendy, like extreme sports, for example, which is why ESPN pushes the X Games like crazy.

The PBT had some great themes, though, back in the day, which I miss.

Mario500 said...

I remember seeing bowling presented by ABC years ago, but it did not keep my attention as a small child. The bowling events presented by CBS in recent years kept my attention. I saw the event presented by ABC last year, too.

For readers who don't know who R.A.M.'67 was referencing in his last sentence, he was referring to Howard Cosell.

hobbyfan said...

Oh, I think we all know who Howard Cosell was, Mario. Right now, I'm picturing in my mind Cosell attempting to call a bowling match----and failing! A SNL skit that could've been and never was!