Photo: Fang’s Bites
Aside from the actual sports programming, who really watches the shtick-laden dross that dominates the airwaves for the ‘Worldwide Leader?’
The ‘E’ in ESPN is supposed to stand for entertainment but there really isn’t anything very entertaining coming out of Bristol these days.
Never before has terminal smugness been combined with a faux-jockey-jokey attitude so completely and effectively. ‘Effectively’ in an ‘I Can’t Take it Any More,’ way. ESPN’s signature smarm pervades every studio show presented by the network, from NFL Prime Time to First Take to the new Sports Center abomination, ‘SC6.’ If you ‘do it,’ why not ‘overdo it,’ must be their directive.
Photo: ESPN Mediazone
And there’s an extra hot place in Hell for whoever decided to put radio shows on TV – anyone who watches should be put on some government list and be a subject of a FISA warrant – but that’s a subject for another time. ESPN radio on TV is like the Home and Garden Network televising paint drying and grass growing.
Despite all of the promotional efforts that tout ESPN’s ‘new direction,’ and that these programming moves are designed to gain Millennial viewers, shtick is shtick. Whether it was the (thankfully) newly retired Chris Berman’s bloviating, Stephen A. Smith’s semi-coherent rantings, Dickie V’s berserker mode, Mike Lupica’s haughty condescension or the new-breed’s hip slickness and pseudo social awareness, it’s all shallow nonsense.
The ESPN personalities may all be wonderful people, but the characters they play on-air are insufferable.
ESPN’s apex was during the days when Dan Patrick and a pre-insane Keith Olbermann held court at SportsCenter, which was truly must see sports TV.
Photo: The Big Lead
During this era, ESPN had a deep bench with guys like Rich Eisen, the always reliable and original ESPNer Bob Ley, Steve Levy, Linda Cohn, the tragically underrated Suze Kolber and a bunch of others.
Highlight-driven shows represented the state of the art in the medium, and nobody did it better than ESPN.
Despite the antics of the resident, perpetual blowhards, Berman and Vitale, the smoothness and intelligence of Dan and a non-crazy Keith set the tone that the other anchors, and most of the on-air personalities, seemed to emulate. Some, like Craig Kilborn, tried a little too hard, and when he went Hollywood it was no surprise. But Kilborn’s act was a harbinger of things to come, where insincerity began to blossom and shtick started to dominate.
Perhaps Rich Eisen leaving for the NFL Network put ESPN on the track they are currently on, style over substance.
Eisen has always been genuine, smart, funny and totally watchable. Clearly, ESPN feels Milennials won’t tune in for this kind of personality.
While there are a few ESPNers who are in the classic mold – John Anderson, Scott Van Pelt, Kolber – they are lost in the sea of new wavers, and I don’t have the time or inclination to wait for them to come on the air.
In the quest for this new market, ESPN has been struggling to connect, and the network has felt the pain in their bottom line. Highlights aren’t a big deal anymore as social media has taken the place of SportsCenter just as SportsCenter killed the local news ‘sports guy.’ Trying to stay relevant, ESPN needs to find an answer.
I’m glad my job is to watch – in this case NOT watch – and not have to try to figure out what ESPN needs to do in order to recapture its magic.