Apparently loudmouth Steven A. Smith is taking over as the solo NBA "expert" on ESPN. A shame...
Also a shame to see ESPN morphing into MTV.
SPORTSCENTER: 'ROCK' BOTTOM
By ANDREW MARCHAND
July 26, 2004 --
FACT or Fiction: Put ting a band on SportsCenter" is the best idea ESPN has ever had?
Fiction. It is the worst idea!
This week, SportsCenter will have musical performances by Alanis Morissette, The Roots and Five For Fighting, among others.
With them, SportsCenter will officially jump the shark. It is downhill from here.
"I don't think it is going to be the end of the world as we know it because we are going to try it," SportsCenter managing editor Norby Williamson said.
It definitely isn't the end of the world as we know it. It is the beginning.
This is SportsCenter.
Formerly the best sports show on TV, it now antagonizes the addicted, die-hard sports junkies as it seeks to lure the casual viewer. So there are more HotSeats, Hearsays and "experts," who seem to know a lot about yelling.
It apparently works. GimmickCenter ratings keep rising. The new beautiful high definition set should be gold-plated, because the show brings in millions (a source said $50-60 million for the 2002 fiscal year. It is probably more now, but ESPN won't comment.)
After blowing Fox Sports Net and CNN/SI out of the national sports news business, ESPN is in a rumble for viewers with MTV, E! and the History Channel. How do you steal their audiences? You add music, movies and entertainment, knowing diehards are on the sports' wagon.
With the rockers scheduled for this week, Williamson gallantly tried to play down the ratings factor, but, in big-time TV, it is always about the ratings.
Face it, if viewers stick around extra long for the music segments this week, Ryan Seacrest could be seated next to Stuart Scott by Friday.
The goal is to use SportsCenter to sell other ESPN programs, more than it is to inform. For heaven's sake, even the Bottom Line is about the bottom line.
On Wednesday evening, the Bottom Line, the ubiquitous sports ticker, took a break from news to read, "Coming up on SportsCenter: Why Tony Hawk thinks Charles Barkley should not ride a skateboard." Bristol, hello?
On the beer sponsored Hot Seat, the appropriately named Hawk promoted the upcoming X Games. Then viewers finally got the pay off, Hawk said Barkley's feet are too big and he is too heavy for a skateboard. Scintillating.
On Thursday evening, host Dana Jacobson — who seems like a credible anchor — introduced that night's Top 10 by embarrassingly saying, "Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, it is not. But the battle between Happy Gilmore and Shooter McGavin is a golf classic; at least on the silver screen."
She droned on, introducing the Top 10, which featured real two-sport athletes. As for the make-believe Happy Gilmore, coincidentally, his movie was on ESPN Thursday night.
SportsCenter still has positives. The attention to detail should be admired. The production is awesome. Giving bigger games more highlight time is effective. If you sift through the garbage, there is some news. On big stories, SportsCenter still shines, snaring a Shaquille O'Neal or a Kobe Bryant for sit-downs.
The show breaks some news, but not nearly as much as it gives itself credit for, as Kenny Mayne hilariously used to note by saying, "David Aldridge is reporting the Nets beat the Knicks, 82-81." By the way, the soft-spoken Aldridge's ESPN career is done next month.
Loud is in. As Stephen A. Smith quickly morphs into caricature of himself, he seems like the face of the new SportsCenter. Good for him. The more of an act he develops to rope in casual fans the richer and more famous he'll become. The band plays on, quite literally this week.
Williamson said the singers are just a tie-in as part of a five-part series on music and athletes. He said he doesn't expect musical acts again any time soon. Whatever.
It is still on SportsCenter, where there used to be only the sweet sound of, "Duh-duh-dah . . . duh-duh-dah."
Three words to start a personal revolution: I'm boycotting ESPN.
(For as long as I can.)
Starting with this morning's "SportsCenter" rerun and lasting until I suffer from a piercing bout of Dick Vitale-deprivation or the network publicly disavows the entire run of "Around the Horn," I'm boycotting ESPN, ESPN2 and any other part of the ESPN broadcast empire.
(I feel better already.)
I'm boycotting ESPN because it's the only game in sports-TV journalism and, like all monopolies, has gotten bloated and maddeningly self-absorbed. I'm boycotting ESPN because I want to know if I can. I'm boycotting ESPN because it has become as omnipresent and dangerous as Microsoft, and it takes a conscious effort to avoid the brand.
Hey, we survived thousands of years before the ESPN era began in 1979 and Chris Berman started demanding that sports virgins be brought to his throne as tribute, right?
So I have to do something to avoid the inexplicable new "Stump the Schwab" game show, which is either a hoax or proof that ESPN programming guru Mark Shapiro has replaced Marlon Brando as America's most powerful loon.
Something became clear to me recently amid the dopey "Home Run Derby," the repulsive ESPYs, the rewrite-history-as-schlock ESPN25 broadcasts and the mindless shrieking and whining.
(I was a member of the voting panel for ESPN25; I can't be the only voter horrified by the first few shows.)
Somewhere in the past few days, it dawned on me that Bad ESPN had finally gobbled up Good ESPN.
ESPN has always had a split personality: Good ESPN, with tremendous reporters, excellent game coverage and a sense of responsibility; and Bad ESPN, which believes that the only way to cut through the clutter is to SHOUT LOUDER AND LOUDER and produce dumber and dumber shows.
Good ESPN is "Baseball Tonight," "Pardon the Interruption" and "Outside the Lines." It's Tom Jackson, Bob Ley, Harold Reynolds, Linda Cohn, Chris Mortensen and Dan Patrick.
Bad ESPN is almost everything else, from Berman to the ESPYs to Stuart Scott to NFL analysts Sean Salisbury and John Clayton (two very nice guys off-air) yelling at each other like kindergartners.
Bad ESPN created "Dream Job" and its winner, new "SportsCenter" anchor Mike Hall, whose attempts at humor and highlight narration make him sound like a 5-month-old cocker spaniel doing the sports report: lots of high-pitched squealing, some drooling, playful pats on the nose by those nearest to him.
And he makes me think of that amplifier joke in "Spinal Tap."
We know that Scott and Berman are all-time "10s" on the annoyance meter. Now Hall has come along and, hello, we find out ESPN can pump it up to "11" when it really needs to.
Of course, remnants of Good ESPN survive. Only Wednesday, I was mesmerized by Ley's "SportsCenter" report on the doping charges leveled at Lance Armstrong.
I'd estimate I watch about 75 to 90 minutes of ESPN programming a day, either as background noise or to catch up on things by tuning in to "SportsCenter." And Bad ESPN is everywhere.
Over those 75 minutes, ESPN is a TV obstacle course: Whoops, watch out, blatant self-promotion, turn to CNN! Get back in time for the update on the Los Angeles Lakers' break-up. Oh no, it's an ESPYs replay, turn off the TV right now!!!
ESPN had two main NBA analysts last season - thoughtful, knowledgeable veteran NBA reporter David Aldridge and the infamous Screamin' A. Smith. Guess which one they just let go? Hint: It wasn't the guy who actually makes sense and doesn't harm your ears.
Look at what they're doing. What does that tell you about how ESPN sees its viewers? As children, you think?
It's no secret that Disney-owned ESPN is trying to transform itself into a mega-entertainment studio to rival Pixar. But instead, it's mutating into a particularly smarmy dimension of hell to rival, well, hell.
Eventually, there will be major ESPN backlash. I don't know if it's coming yet, but I know I want to be out there first, because I want to be on the side with a soul.
So I'm boycotting. I toyed with the idea of drafting my sports-crazy nephew - smack dab in the middle of ESPN's 18-to-25 demographic target territory - to make this a contest.
But I just want to test myself for now. It's not a crusade. I have no desire to become a martyr, squashed by the ESPN logo, though that might occur anyway.
I admit, I chose to start the boycott now, partly because I knew it'd be a relatively easy time to go ESPN cold turkey.
The Shaq-and-Kobe drama is done, the NFL isn't revving up until September, I can get my baseball fix from the Giants and A's local telecasts, and the Olympics, one of the few things not in the ESPN orbit, will soon blot out the landscape.
But it still will be difficult to keep up the boycott. For instance: Where can I get gossip about the upcoming baseball trade deadline? Fox Net's "Best Damn Sports Show" is not an option, because that's like boycotting Shell by buying a Chevron station.
I know eventually I will come back to ESPN. I need it, I hate it. I'm boycotting it, for as long as I can.
You can support me. You can belittle me. But I'm boycotting ESPN. I'll let you know when I relapse.