SIX-FIGURE SKATING

A handful of choirboys in North Dakota may have been surprised when Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan greeted each other in Lillehammer last week like a couple of old pals, then grinned like starlets from opposite ends of the team picture. But no one else even blinked--least of all the pooh-bahs of the entertainment industry.

The truth is, that whack on Goody Two-Skates's knee may have hurt, but it will never hurt her bank account. Or Harding's, for that matter. Just ask their respective agents.

Regardless of what happens at the rink Friday (I'm still pulling for the entrant from Suriname), the two antagonists in Icegate stand to make a fortune from it. Because the networks and the movie companies and the other purveyors of public culture remain happier than ever to feed the insatiable American appetite for low-rent scandal.

Witness recent history. Before Amy Fisher, the Long Island Lolita, could even get home for a change of underwear, she was the centerpiece of three TV movies-of-the-week. The killer Menendez brothers' courtroom tears were scarcely dry when network pitchmen began wooing them over lunch at Ma Maison. And, according to the usual reliable sources, the fires of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco might be a hot property on the boob tube for years.

In the meantime, consider Nancy Kerrigan's meteoric rise as a national celebrity. Two months ago she was a little-known figure skater who popped up now and then to bowl over a couple of hockey players in a Campbell's Soup spot. As of this week, Kerrigan would be hard-pressed to lift all her new contracts and contracts-in-the-making. Once the knee-bashing plot began to thicken, more than fifty TV and movie producers sent inquiries to her representatives, Jerry Solomon and Lon Monk of the sports marketing company ProServ, and those two promptly settled into L.A.'s tony Four Seasons Hotel to entertain serious offers. And to lick their chops.

The result, just to start, will be an ABC movie chronicling Nancy's rise to fame and glory, her devotion to her legally blind mother, the attack itself and, almost as an afterthought, her performance in the Olympic Games. But the negotiators from ProServ, who wanted to get the papers signed before the Games in case their client landed on her duff and knocked her value down a couple of pegs, drove a harder bargain than that. ABC will also air a separate prime-time special and package a Kerrigan exercise video. The deep-pocketed Walt Disney Company is also involved in the deal, and its perks fall just short of signing Kerrigan as a winger for the conglomerate's new hockey team, the Mighty Ducks. There will be a long-term link of some sort between the skater and the Disney theme parks, a book deal through Disney's publishing division and, possibly, a recording contract. Next Christmas you may also hear your daughter wailing for the new Nancy Kerrigan doll.

Harding will think twice before sticking any pins in it.
While Beauty makes at least $500,000 for the ABC movie alone, the Beast will get a TV flick of her own. The Fox Network is developing Harding's rather less inspirational story through a production company owned in part by HBO and says it wants to get the thing on the tube in time for the May sweeps. A third TV movie, probably based on public-domain material, is all but a certainty, Hollywood wags agree. And although no one is speculating yet about product-endorsement contracts for the Harding camp, farm-implement companies and weapons manufacturers might be good bets.

The poor, plucky kid from Portland will get herself sheathed yet in designer dresses.

In other words, the actual Olympic skating competition to take place this Friday has become a footnote to the scandal, although CBS cannot be unhappy about what Icegate will do for its ratings. The network had already scheduled figure skating segments for ten of its sixteen nights of Lillehammer coverage, but the Friday women's skating slot could run the ratings right off the charts. Newspapers and magazines are already competing for the two skaters' mugs: Tonya was again Newsweek's cover girl last week; Nancy beamed from the front of Time. Oddly, it seems to be the supermarket tabloids that are getting left out of the hunt: The Kerrigan attack and the media feeding frenzy that has followed it are so bizarre that the lowest-common-denominator rags find themselves hard-pressed to sensationalize them any more than they already have been.

While Tonya and Nancy add up their loot, maybe the National Enquirer can get Lorena Bobbitt into a pair of skates.

Meanwhile, over in the boys' counting house, the major-league baseball owners are once again showing their determination to operate the plantation without laws or outside governance.

It has been almost a year and a half since the owners forced commissioner Fay Vincent from office, and if the game ever gets a replacement, he will have the same clout as a batboy.

Without apparent interference from anyone, the owners last week announced "rules changes" that strip the commissioner of the long-held power to act "in the best interests of baseball" with regard to business matters. Translation: A new commish would remain on the bench during collective bargaining between players and owners, and he would no longer be able to unilaterally stop a management lockout. Bowie Kuhn did that in 1976.

The commissioner would also have no say about postseason play, scheduling, realignment, expansion, broadcasting contracts, revenue sharing or the sale or relocation of teams.

In other words, he would sit quietly in a nice office, contemplating his autograph collection.

The lone voice of opposition to this major coup belongs to Senator Howard Metzenbaum, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on antitrust. Last week, the Ohio Democrat sharply criticized the owners for declawing the commissioner, and he pledged that the Senate Judiciary Committee will take a hard look at baseball's antitrust exemption this session.

As well it should. Of course, Congress called Casey Stengel in back in 1958 to explain the game's financial intricacies, and sports fans know how that turned out.

For the time being, Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig continues in his role as "acting commissioner"--which means that the other owners make sure Selig's drink is always fresh during the cocktail hour.

For this, Selig is paid a million dollars a year, according to the New York Times. At the time Vincent was run off, his salary was $650,000. Where is Kenesaw Mountain Landis when we need him?

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