Sports Media Musings: What The Sports Guy’s Live March Madness Stream Means For Studio Shows

Quick Infomercial: I wrote about Tuukka Rask‘s plight and “Tuukka Time” becoming “Biding Time” for today’s print edition of Metro Boston. Here’s the web version. Please take a moment and give it a read. And remember, feel free to give me a shout out on Twitter if you’re bored Out There. As always, thanks for reading.

*** 

The way CBS Sports — both the studio crew and sideline reporters — handled the power outage during last year’s Super Bowl was reprehensible. Too strong? Considering the stage — the freakin’ Super Bowl — and how poorly James Brown and Co. adapted to the unforeseen circumstances (Hey guys! Let’s take a look at those same three highlights one more time!), I’d say from a media performance perspective this was, in every sense, embarrassing. Like Janet Jackson‘s nipple slip on freeze frame for 45 minutes.

When you really think about it, was it all that shocking the CBS talking heads floundered when the lights shined (check that, didn’t shine) brightest? Nope. Studio shows suck. That’s not the most eloquent sentence I’ve written in my career, but it’s true, they’re terrible. I know this. You know this. My seven year-old niece (probably) knows this.

The three main problems?

1. Studio shows are overproduced: I don’t need three hours to get ready for a sports event. I don’t need “goofy”segments featuring ex-jocks preaching to me about players being “elite” or “among the elite” or “potentially elite” like we’re on the Congress floor voting for governmental reform. Shoot me. In the face. Please. This is sports, guys. Remember this.

2. Studio shows are grossly overstaffed: There are a litany of reasons why “Inside the NBA” on TNT works. It starts with the talent, the chemistry, all of that. But early on the producers realized less is, in fact, more. Three guys: Ernie Johnson, Chaz Barkley, and Kenny Smith. That’s it. It’s all you need. If you want to throw in a plugged-in information dude, like, say Adam Schefter if you’re ESPN, I’m on board. Too often they are too many chefs in the kitchen with these things. HOW DO THE REST OF THE NETWORKS NOT SEE THIS????

3. Studio shows lack any sincerity: Seriously, I’m hearing the same Chris Berman joke that Tom Jackson and Cris Carter are digesting, and my reaction is either indifference or worse; meanwhile, they respond like they’re watching Dave Chappelle do stand up comedy circa 2004. They’re either YACKING IT UP for the cameras, or are operating with a sense of humor different to anyone else I’ve ever encountered in the world.

I mean, I don’t need these guys to be best pals; I need them to have a clever feature or interview and decent discourse about the league they are covering. Maybe throw in a few old war stories from when they played. But that’s it. Chemistry always helps but it can’t be manufactured — you either have it or you don’t. Berman and Jackson have it, but only after developing a rapport over the years.

***

Bill Simmons knows these problems. He’s written about these problems for Page 2 way back when. In 2013, he finally has the influence and cache to remedy the issue. He’s got the ear of ESPN C-Level Executive John Skipper. Sports Illustrated’s media critic Richard Deitsch put Simmons as the most powerful personality in sports media in his power rankings last month. He’s now even a player in the sphere as an analyst on ESPN’s revamped “NBA Countdown” studio show. ESPN is clearly following the TNT model, using Simmons, Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose, and Michael Wilbon (as the pseudo host). Four guys. That’s it. And more often than not, on non-primetime games, one of the analysts will be off for the night.

So, it came to no surprise to me during Day 1 of March Madness that The Sports Guy hosted a live stream from his living room (I’m serious) on his website, Grantland, featuring a few staff writers, Rose, and his friend Joe House. What did they do? Basically, just a bunch of guys, being guys, eating food, and watching sports. HAMMIN’ IT UP for the camera webcam.

This seems silly, but then again so did Simmons writing an Internet column for $50 bucks a pop in the late ’90s before becoming the face of ESPN.com (and Grantland) and hosting a podcast in 2007 mainly featuring friends before having guests like President Obama on (That’s right. Our President took the time to talk to Simmons on his podcast. Sorry, haters — you may denigrate what The Sports Guy’s accomplished, but if that isn’t telling, I don’t know what is).

Will this be a game changer? I don’t know. Probably not. It’s a risk from Simmons. He’ll likely be poked fun at by the blogosphere, because that’s what the blogosphere does, but he can be coy and claim it’s just him and a few buddies hanging out (the insertion of House, the setting, all make for a “GOTCHA, THIS WAS JUST FOR KICKS” aspect for those that really care to criticize).

Worse case scenario, show runners come to terms with something the rest of us realized at the turn of the century: Studio shows have an obsolete format and it’s time to turn out the lights on the old guard — figuratively speaking, of course — and consider implementing a major overhaul.

Recognition of the problem, I’m told, is always the first step.

  • bsmfan

    Even if you do not like Simmons, look at it from the “maybe this is better than what we have now?” position:

    First, would any other network on whatever their coverage is have done this? No. The only scenario I could see this working is if one of the sport-specific networks hosted some type of event doing something similar, i.e.: HoF baseball players on MLB network doing a 30-minute show, etc. The closest might be TNT filming “live from Charles Barkley’s media room with Jet, Chuck, Shaq, etc”. ESPN is going on 3+ years now is trying to replicate what TNT has, but one could argue that if they dropped their obsession with “star” power and removed Magic, it would go a long way.

    Second, “Countdown” and “Pre-game” shows have been on the decline in the NFL. See: http://bit.ly/WSlDD2 from AwfulAnnouncing back in November 2012. NFLN is the only network seeing increases. When I’ve seen the numbers, their overall viewership is declining and most of the viewers are >age 50–not what the networks want. The problem? Even with how much the NFL makes per network, they print cash showing these games. However, is it worth it paying over 10m/yr on salary for 5 guys in the studio over time? We’ll have to see. Also, if you did not know, each network needs “permission” (ie: payola) from the NFL to do these. With each of the major networks all with dedicated “Sports Networks”, they now can incorporate this talent into expanded coverage.

    Third, going on #2, will more networks like the regional “CSN” family do what CSNNE does with Bruins and Patriots games? I have to assume that CSN used its NBC power to extend some agreement to replicate it in each and every market because, on their football side, it seems to be a hit. I’ve never seen the ratings for the CSNNE Bruins stuff but recall reading that they were really good against NESNs. We’re a unique market but one has to wonder that even if they don’t do a “Live From Bill Simmons Man Cave”, that they take alternative approaches.

    Good or bad, I’ve not seen any of the popular media guys (@AA, etc) guys post a reaction, so I’d be interested to see what they thought. As you said, it could just be some “harmless stunt”, that gets him torched in the blogosphere but could also be something that you could point to in a number of years as the “thing” that ignited a shift. To me, I like the “lets try and see what happens”, even if nothing ever changes from it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michael.sutherland.90410 Michael Sutherland

      The Blue Man Group principle: hmm, what would happen if we…? I agree, it’s worth trying.

      Whenever I’m watching a game that’s on national TV, but there’s a local pregame, if I’m watching pregame at all I’m watching the local. They have more familiarity with the game and the team I are about (and that includes the opponent). Besides, I get used to the local guys.

      • bsmfan

        I can’t blame you here.

        The last 3 ESPN NBA Countdowns? All did NOT involve a game with the Heat or Lakers.

        20 minutes on the Heat
        5 minutes on the Lakers

        What a joke.

        NOTHING on any of the teams who were playing that night.

        Look, I get the ratings. However, want to keep “leading”? ESPN has to stop this E!SPN. There are other teams out there.

        As an example: See how NBCSN does NHL and even MLS? They talk to you about the two teams you’re about to see and other general news.

        Completely agree on the local angle there. The respective networks do good jobs on this part.

  • http://twitter.com/DryHeave1 DryHeave

    Brent Musberger, Phyllis George, Irv Cross and Jimmy “The Greek” that was the last time I regularly watched a Football pre-game show and that was because back then that was all there was ( and the one on NBC)…….Today were oversaturated with sports talking heads, by game day I’ve heard enough blabber.

    • dan

      Agree…I prefer 2 – 3 talking heads in studio talking about the games and enough with the over the top laughing at every lame joke like it’s def comedy jam.

      I find myself just mostly watching the Red Zone pre-game as they mainly deal with statistics for the fantasy players so that means less sports talk show type drama that has infiltrated that other network shows.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michael.sutherland.90410 Michael Sutherland

      Right on, dryheave. You can get better and more interesting information (aside from the occasional late-breaking arrest or injury) on the interwebs long before the pregame shows on gameday. At this point, pregame shows are nothing but broadcasting foreplay.

      • http://twitter.com/DryHeave1 DryHeave

        The more sports shows there are (both TV and Radio) the more it sounds like, “white noise” to me. While I do pay attention to what’s going on in sports media (by coming to this site) I basically just watch the games now. Everything else is meaningless noise pollution.

    • GrahamMcGinty

      .
      But that old crew ….. Sucked ! ! ! !
      .

  • bomber

    One of my pet peeves when sporting events start ten minutes after their supposed to start.Espn is the culprit.My one thing with Salk is his obsession with time telling you what’s coming up in twenty minutes. He did the same when he was on espn radio.

  • CorbinCampo

    Here’s what President Obama taking the time to talk to Bill Simmons on his sports blog tells us: 1) the priorities of our nation’s Chief Executive are seriously out-of-whack; 2) the standards by which engaging, entertaining, informative discourse are judged in modern society have been seriously dumbed-down; 3) there’s no accounting for taste.

    Simmons is snarky pop-culture geek who managed to convince the “braintrust” in Bristol, CT that he’s the end-all, be-all amongst “new media” sports scribes. No offense, but, historically, ESPN has also bought into the likes of Pro Beach Hockey, “Beg, Borrow & Deal”, “Cold Pizza”, and “Dan Le Betard Is ¿Highly Questionable?”; Hell, the “Four Letter Network” actually managed to convince a segment of our nation’s populace that Howie Schwab was a celebrity. In other words, simply because John Skipper-and-Company can’t get enough of Simmons is no reason to believe he’s anything but the self-aggrandizing hipster poseur of the sports set.

    Frankly, Simmons has long since become a parody of himself. The whole cult-of-personality he’s crafted – and scrambles to maintain – smacks of trying way too hard. It’s as if his adoption of the whole “Sports Guy” persona was meant to establish him as “just one of the guys”, as opposed to the Greenwich Country Day/Brunswick School/Choate Rosemary Hall-educated prepster he grew up as. Then, no sooner did he gain some cache amongst the die-hard, “regular Joe” sports fans of America, “Little Lord Fauntleroy” seems to have panicked over selling-out his “oh, so veddy proper” educational upbringing and launched Grantland in order to establish his high-brow bonafides.

    The end result? When it comes to Bill Simmons, there’s no “there” there. Substance is sorely lacking. He’s all surface sheen with precious little depth. He was moderately entertaining on AOL’s Digital City Boston and BostonSportsGuy.com, but has become insufferable since making the move to ESPN.

  • GrahamMcGinty

    Ryan , good story
    Way too many chefs in the sports studios these days , with very little to add

  • dan

    I sample that new guy again yesterday and all I can say is that Ordway is still available. Seriously,WEEI…hire glenn back and lets all pretend that the Salk era never happened. I’m sure most people haven’t even noticed yet so there’s still time to correct this.

  • Scott

    tc;dr.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.sutherland.90410 Michael Sutherland

    Check out some of the previous threads, tl, going back to Wednesdsay–there’s a fair amount of Salk talk sprinkled in amongst the other topics. (Quick summary for you: takes range from meh to bad.)