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Kiely wins emmy award

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Tim Kiely remembers the day many years ago when he walked into the office of WTAE-TV program director Joe Rovitto.

Kiely, who had recently graduated from Columbia University and was working in a beer warehouse, was looking for a job. Rovitto wanted to know what he knew about television.

"Nothing," Kiely said. "I know how to watch it."

His brashness and passion worked. He got the job.

And today, Kiely has an Emmy to prove that he knows a little more about television than how to work the remote control.

Kiely, who grew up in Point Breeze and graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1978, is senior producer of Inside the NBA, the studio show that TNT and TBS wrap around their game telecasts three times a week. The show won a Sports Emmy award April 23 as the best daily studio show.

"It's about as much fun as I've had working," said Kiely, who played football at Central with Dan Marino and also won a letter as a linebacker at Columbia.

While at Channel 4, Kiely, who still speaks regularly with Marino and is his unofficial television coach, produced Myron Cope's sportscasts and Steelers and Pitt telecasts, among many other events. He worked on SportsCenter and NFL Prime Time for ESPN and is responsible for the NBA, Atlanta Braves, college football, Wimbledon and NASCAR for TNT and TBS.

When Kiely left ESPN in 1995, Chris Berman said, "It's like losing your right guard."

Now, Kiely lives in Atlanta and works with the irreverent Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA. Kiely, who is smart enough not to script Barkley's act, has only one rule for his star: "Show up on time," he said, "and don't be drunk."

Kiely is the traffic cop for Barkley, analyst Peter Vecsey, former NBA guard Kenny Smith and host Ernie Johnson Jr., who also won an Emmy for his work on the show.

"When he comes in (to the studio), it's like a rolling party," Kiely said of Barkley. "It's the exact opposite of standard TV. TV is legend for planning and meeting and meetings upon meetings and having meetings about meetings we're going to have.

"With Charles, we follow what he does in an unplanned manner. You have to be spontaneous."

It was Kiely's idea to use Barkley's celebrated girth and NBA comeback hopes as the show's recurring theme during the 2000-2001 season.

"He was huge," Kiely said, "bigger than any Steelers lineman. His butt was as big as a bus. Every two weeks, he would have to get on the scale."

After a while — prodded by the publicity the show generated and incessant kidding from Michael Jordan — Barkley dropped from 337 pounds to 310.

Kiely often must protect Barkley from network executives who aren't fond of him ridiculing the movies that follow the games. Once, the show began with Barkley reading the newspaper and asking Johnson, "I'm trying to figure out how AOL lost $54 billion in one day, and we still have jobs." AOL, of course, owns TNT and TBS.

"I tell them, 'Guys, it's like when (David) Letterman kids you. It's kind of like a badge of honor.' Any publicity is good publicity. As my poor mother used to say, 'Just spell the name right.' "

Kiely admits that winning the Emmy is a nice honor, even though he once thought such awards were too often steeped in politics. But when the announcement came, he didn't want to hear it. Not at the time, anyway.

"Our (production) truck was in Charlotte, and it took a torpedo hit," he said. "A power surge blew it up."

The show was temporarily off the air when Kiely's telephone rang.

"It was my boss, Mark Lazarus," he said. "I'm running around, screaming and yelling into telephones, trying to resolve the crisis, but when your boss calls, you have to pick up the phone."

Lazarus relayed the good news, but Kiely was barely listening.

"That's great, Mark, but I have to put you hold. We're not on the air right now."

Kiely is proud of the award, though, after his show beat out ESPN's Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter, ESPN2's NHL 2Night and Fox's Best Damn Sports Show Period.

As Barkley announced one night, "Now, they got the second-best damn sports show."

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