By: T.R. Slyder, TRSlyder@yahoo.com
(This piece was written last year for a website I used to write for. I remembered it yesterday while watching Chris Berman yammering about himself and how he relates to football. I decided to run the article again).
You know when you're watching Jack Black prance around in his underpants conjuring up his inner rock-god and you're sitting there like "What the hell is this?? How could someone think I care about any of this?? What portion of this would entertain me? I just don't get it. Well, it does look like he's having fun at least. Good for him. That makes one of us."
Problem #0: the Original Sin
The panelists making predictions. Not sure when this started, or what pompous ass assumed we cared. This portion of these shows has been around as long as I can remember, which leads to my next question: What the f&$# for? What other sport does this? (Horse racing is exempt because the sport is based around betting, so predictions help you enjoy the sport) Peter Gammons doesn't say: "OK boys, as you know I went 12-4 last night with my picks, so here they are for tonight....." Jay Bilas doesn't do that either. Why football? This gets back to my Jack Black in underpants comment- sure it's fun to think people give a crap about your predictions, but who honestly would? I am positive you don't care who I think will win. So go ahead and use that logic for how you think I'd feel about your predictions. It's really very, very simple.
But then they took these predictions and went a step further: they kept score for the whole year. Terrible. Terrible idea. Sure thing guys, we don't care how our favorite team does, just as long as it helps Quadry Ismail gain a game on Tony Siragusa in the overall standings.
The unkindest cut of all of this, is that when they cut to the predictions portion of the show and have the air of "Finally America, here it is, what you've all been waiting for...." they inevitably start off with "OK, I went 6-11 last week with my picks......" how does that whet my appetite? MAYBE I'd listen if you knew what you were doing, but you obviously don't. If you give a monkey a pencil, over time he (or she) will pick 50% of the winners. Why can't these guys? Is this some kind of fucking joke?
Problem #1: The SportsCenter-ification of the Pre/Half/Post game show.
SportsCenter, at one time was the Little Sports Show That Could. It gained it's full momentum when sports anchors started instituting catchy phrases and recanting that day's sports highlights with more flair than was customary. Resplendent in elevated intonation, use of slang and the all-new "catchphrase", this proved to be the way of the future. It used to be that people doing an impression of a sportscaster just did a Howard Cosell impression, now they just make up a nonsensical catchphrase and sound the part. This also represents the difference between entertainment and journalism.
The fallout of problem #1: The halftime clips being screamed by an ex athlete who is only mostly literate but has the most up-to-date catchphrases of anyone else on hand at the time. Problem #1 has also resulted in the panelists trying to act more like a kind of entertainer than an actual journalist, or just acting as themselves. Hey panelists, the sport is the entertainment, not you nutsacks.
Problem #2: The proliferation of fantasy football
The networks realized that everyone plays fantasy football even people who aren't huge football fans. Furthermore, not only were nearly all of their viewing audience currently in a fantasy league, some people were watching only because they were in a fantasy league.
The fallout: This problem was inspired by the Original Sin. Now it has it's own segment: The update with their fantasy league. Now whenever an NFL player is mentioned we get to hear his name prefaced with "...the stud of my fantasy football team with 26 points last week....". Right guys, trust me, we're all following your fantasy league at home. Somewhere Jack Black lays back in his easy chair, shirtless and disheveled, with a tic-tac-sized bulge in his whitey tighties.
Problem #3: Athlete panelists replacing journalist panelists
Ideally you have both on a panel. The current NFL show format is a jovial host surrounded by ex-athletes. Admittedly this is a fantastic formula. Assuming what you're looking for is an orgy of poor grammar at a high volume combined with a celebration of fake laughter interrupted by poorly-faked chemistry. However, should your objective be an effective football broadcast, this is a bad idea. The moderator of the bunch is overrun by the athletes' canned chemistry/laughter and the show digresses.
Admittedly, the panels are far richer with accomplished ex-athletes, but we don't need 3 at the desk and 4 more as correspondents. When I saw Keyshawn Johnson interview Chad Johnson, I thought Keyshawn was just trying to prove to Chad how down he still is, and auditioning to get invited to a Chad Johnson party. All while trying to get in an interview on the side.
Look at how much better Baseball Tonight's model is: Ravich + athlete or two (Harold Reynolds was the best) + a journalist (Kurkjian, Gammons or Olney) = Great show every time. That formula is outstanding. If the athlete wants to get too crunked up, he's out numbered by men who speak English, and he assumes their civility. This works.
Problem #4: When the dudes grab an actual football and actually run a play in real life on their toy field. Then the non-athletes try to act as though they actually belong and if a real game were to break out they would totally hold their own.
Seriously guys. No.
Final problem. Problem #5: The PTI-ification of NFL shows.
I love PTI. So should you. It's proof that actual journalism mixed with actual chemistry can still be extremely entertaining. Unfortunately, their justified influence has had a non-sanctimonious trickle-down effect. Now every segment has to be made into some kind of game like it's The Price Is Right. You can't just give America 3 things to look for, you have to play the new game "'Give Me Some More' or 'Your Mom's a Whore'", no longer will you be pro or con, it's either "'Coors Light-tastic' or 'Cover Your Head in a Bag That's Plastic'", I heard rumors about a game in the works called "'This One Has Soul' or 'Blow It Out Your Red Hole'" and that's simply not necessary.
On top of all of this idiocy during the pregame they get even crappier at halftime. This error isn't made by self-promoting, hyperactive goofballs in front of the camera. This is a problem with the directors. You endured the pregame show. You just watched the first half of your locally scheduled game. You have a brain. You saw the game and its highlights as they happened. You know what each team wants to change for the next half. THIS game you know, but you're dying to see the other games: maybe your favorite team was playing but you couldn't get it on your TV, maybe other games have huge fantasy impact. Finally halftime is here and you can watch other games' highlights!! So after commercial what game does the Halftime Show lead with? THE ONE YOU WERE JUST WATCHING. The only athletic event in this solar system you do NOT need to see recapped is the one they lead with and devote an entire commercial-to-commercial segment to.
That would be like you and I attending a party and on the way home I was telling you all about the party, how fun it was, who all was there, the funny things that happened, who did what, how much you would have enjoyed it, etc. Eventually you'd cut me off and say "No shit! I was there you, f*&%ing boob!!!" And you'd be right, and I'd be a f*&%ing boob if I did that.
I promise that if this ever makes sense to me, I will not reproduce and subject you to my offspring.
The Final Portion- My solution.
Restructure the panel so it follows the Baseball Tonight formula: Host/moderator + one or two athletes + one journalist. If you must have a correspondent, make them a journalist with a personality, or an ex-athlete that is intelligent.
Scrap the predictions, fantasy league updates, intermittent sketch comedy, Price-Is-Right-esque segments, and acting out plays in real life. With your new found time either make the show shorter, or provide some actual insight that maybe the non-expert viewer at home did not already know. Then at halftime show more highlights of other games and don't even mention the one we just watched. Think more Wilbon/Kornheiser, less Jack Black.
I didn't have a good place to work this joke in, so I'll just leave with it. On Monday Night Countdown on ESPN Tom Jackson said he finally started drinking the Brett Favre Kool-Aid. I think the tap for that keg can be found inside Chris Berman's pants. Hi-ooooo.