Friday, September 29, 2006

Dear ESPN...

Back in the Golden Days of my youth ESPN's SportsCenter was an oasis in the dessert of basic cable monotony. I would watch the Dan Patrick/Keith Olbermann show at 11pm, then happily sit through the Brett Haber/Craig Kilborn recap at 2am. The personalities, catch-phrases, and plethora of highlights were ambrosia to my insatiable hunger for sports.

But the show became TOO popular - eventually corporate America realized there was a market opportunity and swooped in. In the ten years since that time the "Worldwide Leader", and the Disney corporate behemoth that calls the shots, has tightened its iron grip on sports news and as a result the quality of the on-screen product has steadily deteriorated right before our eyes. It got so bad that I stopped watching SportsCenter completely, except for those five glorious months known as Football Season. After a long lay-off it's been a bit jarring seeing how far ESPN has fallen. And sure, maybe those halcyon days of yore can never be recaptured, but here are some suggestions that would help ESPN become fun to watch again, or at least would make me less likely to hurl my remote at John Buccigross...

- Improve the talent level. I realize this seems pretty obvious, but when Mark May and Lou Holtz are your main studio analysts for college football there's a problem. Back in the day there were personalities at ESPN that were almost as big a draw as the highlights themselves - Olbermann, Mayne, Kilborn, and Patrick just to name a few. Now there seems to be an assembly line spitting out bland, interchangable hosts on SportsCenter. The attempts at improving diversity have resulted in the unwatchable Rachel Nicholls and the unlistenable Stephen A. Smith. There are still some great talents at ESPN - Dan Patrick appears to be a lifer, the underrated Brian Kenny excels wherever they send him, and the GameDay guys are the best. But much like Florida State, the Worldwide Leader doesn't have the depth it once did.

- SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT TERRELL OWENS!!! Seriously, enough is enough. For a three-hour span every Sunday I care about Terrell Owens. Other than that I don't give a rat's ass about the man. I don't care what he said about his QB, I don't care what he ate for breakfast, I don't care, period. There are plenty of talented, decent people in sports who deserve more coverage than that pill-popping ass-monkey.

- Don't go the MTV route. The so-called "Music Television" station hasn't shown a music video since 1998. Now they're focused on cheesy high-school dramas and "Pimp my Ride" marathons. Similarly, ESPN has lost it's focus with original programming like the short-lived "Playmakers" and the atrocious "Tilt". What happened to the World's Strongest Man competition or any of the other off-the-wall sports ESPN used to feature? This attempt at original programming reeks of Disney interference, and it takes the focus off of actual sports coverage, which is the heart and soul of the network. Dance with what brung ya', guys.

- Please for the love of god tone down the "personal interest" stories! I'm a morning SportsCenter guy now so I have a 30 minute window to get my sports fix in the a.m., and there's nothing worse than turning on the TV expecting highlights and instead getting the sad piano music from "Full House" and a 10 minutes piece about a one-armed high school football player in Tennessee. And yes, I realize I'm going to hell now and I'm okay with it.

- Could we maybe hype up the Mannings a little less until one of them actually wins something? I mean, Peyton never won his division in the SEC, and he has yet to make a Super Bowl appearance, yet he gets 10 times the coverage Brady does (though watching him try to look tough in that GatorAde Rain commercial may be the only thing funnier than Monty Python's "Holy Grail").

- Is SportsCenter a TV show or a carnival ride? I feel like I'm about to have a seizure half the time I'm watching the show with all the crazy, flashing graphics flying around the screen. It's the same problem I have with Fox Sports and the visual hyperbole they like to throw around their football coverage. I'm already watching the station, all I want is some highlights and some witty analysis, so what exactly is the purpose of the hyper-drive light effects or the dancing robots? Enough already.

- Woody Paige and Skip Bayless should fight to the death, with the winner getting a bullet to the back of the head. Under no circumstances should either of these men be on television for any reason. Watching the ancient Paige try to make a coherent point with his hair all gelled up like a California beach boy is one off the most painful things I've ever witnessed, and I've been watching a Jeff Bowden offense for six years now. Besides, what exactly is entertaining about a bunch of sportswriters screaming at each other? I have yet to figure that out...

- Steer clear of the high school sports. Maybe we should blame LeBron for the phenomenon, but the increasing coverage of high school sports and shows like MTV's "Two-a-Days" reeks of exploitation. These 15- and 16-year olds kids should be allowed to grow up, to learn, to succeed, and to fail without the pressure of a national audience.

That's all I've got. Overall I'm happy ESPN exists and for the most part they do a great job, but I also know it could be a whole lot better. If ESPN would get back to focusing on what made them great in the first place - first rate coverage of the sports world at large - then maybe I'd find myself once again anticipating that famous theme song every night at 11pm. Da-du-da! Da-du-da!


At 1:58 AM, Blogger Kevin McGuire said...

Your thoughts on Sportscenter, and ESPN in general, could not be more right.

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