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
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.