ESPN loses its focus

Published: July 9, 2004 in the Orlando Setinel

Dear ESPN -- oops, I mean, Dear Worldwide Leader:

We need to talk.

Normally I wouldn't do this in public, but you don't seem to listen any other way. Look, a lot of other people have been saying things behind your back, and, well, they're right. We're starting to drift apart, and it's all because of your most prized possession, SportsCenter.

Look, we all love your live sports broadcasts (sorry, but hot-dog-eating contests don't count), your studio shows like Baseball Tonight, and your quirky time-killers like World's Strongest Man. No one's going to stop watching those programs.

I'm talking about SportsCenter. Your crown jewel. The reason all my friends and I fell for you in the first place. The reason we've been together for so many years, walking away happy almost every night with the sights and sounds of that day's events.

Oh, sure, we've had our ups and downs, and you've gone through a lot of changes. That's fine. We both knew your job would require change from time to time.

But over the past year or so, I can barely watch your show anymore, and I'm not alone. It almost seems like you've turned into a raving lunatic who's so rich and powerful he starts tinkering with things just because he can. Three words: Stop the insanity.

Let's start with the commercials. It can't be long before people finally realize ESPN stands for Excessive Self Promotion Nightly. It's almost enough to make me long for Fox.

At the start of the show, you air highlights of maybe two games before the first round of ads. On Wednesday night, the show wasn't even four minutes old before the first break. Heck, Dick Vitale goes longer than that between pauses. The show spends more time and energy telling us what's coming later than actually showing us what that might be.

Then we have the numerous segments that barely relate to sports, eating time that could go to highlights, stats, features -- you know, stuff fans actually care about.

The Hot Seat really isn't a bad idea. But then you go and put on Tim Russert, Donald Trump or a guy who won't say anything like Buck Showalter. I turn to you to watch sports, not Entertainment Tonight.

And don't get me going on the horrid Hearsay, where I guess we're supposed to be impressed that in two minutes, a pair of NFL teammates can guess all of four Password-like clues. Or the bizarre ESPN Shorts, which almost defy explanation.

Of course, I can't leave out the lengthy interviews with fellow Worldwide Leader employees. (Why can't your anchors just relay the message and save us the pain of watching people who clearly aren't cut out for live TV?) Or your love for stretching puns and sayings past their breaking point on graphics.

And now one of your friends tells me you're going to have anchors introduce live musical acts during the show later this month. Sigh.

Look, we've lasted through the rise and fall of the stellar Big Show with Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, the parade of marginally talented anchors who seem to care only about their stand-up comedy act, and, yes, even highlights of dogs jumping off docks into a lake to promote your Outdoor Games.

So I'd like to think we're strong enough to survive this and keep people in your key demographics, but you have to put some effort into it too. Just, please, Worldwide Leader: Stop messing with SportsCenter.


Sunshine Network gives Tampa Bay Lightning fans a chance to relive their team's glorious season with a one-hour special at 7:30 tonight. Rick Peckham and Bobby "The Chief" Taylor spend the first half of the show discussing the season, though they fail to capture the drama of the playoff series as it progressed game by game. The second half of the show moves along much better, with clips of players talking about the year, and the hosts seeming to have more fun.

The Orlando Seals hired Mike Corbett as broadcaster, though for some reason, the team said he joined on a game-by-game basis. Then again, it seems the entire league -- whichever one actually starts this fall -- will be on a game-by-game basis, so he won't be alone.

Though most scheduling isn't done until a couple of weeks before a game, CBS announced some of its college football schedule for the upcoming season. Not surprisingly, two Florida games will be shown nationwide. The Sept. 18 contest at Tennessee will air in prime time, and the Oct. 30 meeting with Georgia will start at 3:30 p.m.

Speaking of college football, Sunshine this week pays tribute to Florida State, with replays of three straight FSU victories over Florida starting at noon Saturday. In what could be called Merry Chris-mas, Chris Weinke and Chris Rix play pivotal roles in the telecasts from 2000, 2002 and 2003.

NBC brings viewers more fun from the U.S. Summer Olympic trials this weekend, with swimming and track and field taking the stage this time. Starting tonight and carrying through next weekend, NBC and USA Network will offer 19 hours of live coverage, six in prime time.

On Sunday, according to an ABC release, Tiger Woods will actually open up about his recent drought in major championships during its British Open preview at 1 p.m. No word if Butch Harmon's name surfaces. During the one-hour show, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer all talk about the tournament at Royal Troon, which begins Thursday.

And finally, ESPN's broadcast of the Home Run Derby (8 p.m. Monday) will debut Home Run Cam, a camera mounted above the stands in foul territory that moves from the plate to the foul pole, but only on the third-base side. Those who want close-up shots of the ball hit by left-handed sluggers are out of luck. ESPN will also bring all living members of the 500-home run club on the field at the event as well.



Auto racing: Nextel Cup Tropicana 400, 2:30 p.m., NBC (WESH-Ch. 2). No more boogity, boogity, boogity, because NBC takes over the broadcast of NASCAR's top series with this race from Joliet, Ill., a bit outside Chicago. Bill Weber will again host the one-hour, pre-race program before giving way to Allen Bestwick, Benny Parsons and the certifiably crazy (but knowledgeable) Wally Dallenbach at 3:30 p.m. for green-flag racing. NBC will have 61 cameras on hand, including robotic cameras in all four turns, for the broadcast, and instead of giving short reports on the top-running drivers in its Through the Field segments, the network also will include an Inside the Field segment, which will give information about drivers out of the top 20 at the time.

Baseball: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis, 7 p.m., ESPN. This game marks the end of a series that could well give the Cardinals the boost they need to put the NL Central out of reach, or lift the Cubs into serious contention. ESPN's Baseball Tonight crew, taking a cue from its College GameDay colleagues, hits the road for a live broadcast of its show from Busch Stadium. Then the fun begins on the field at 8 p.m. Chris Carpenter is slated to go against Chicago's Kerry Wood in a good pitching matchup as the pair of power-packed teams (featuring Albert Pujols and Sammy Sosa) write another chapter in their long, storied rivalry.

Baseball: MLB All-Star Game, 8 p.m., Fox (WOFL-Ch. 35). Fox will break out all the technological tools it has to try to make baseball's midsummer classic a telecast to remember. Aside from its normal bag of miked-up players and assorted goodies such as graphics that chase movement of pitches, we get the return of Scooter, the goofy cartoon talking baseball. Fox also will introduce (drum roll, please) tiny cameras buried on the mound and in front of the plate called Diamond-Cam.