Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Downfall of SportsCenter

A few years back, the thought of me criticizing SportsCenter was incomprehensible. It was sacrilegious. The show was a titan amongst other TV shows for the 18-35 year old male demographic into which I fell. To kids my age, there was SportsCenter and then there was everything else.

Those males of my generation grew up watching SportsCenter before we went to school at 6am and before we went to bed at 11pm. It was our one source for all the sports news we would need to hold a quality debate at school the next day. “Did you guys see how many points Michael put up last night against the Knicks,” my friend would say. And I would respond “Yeah, but I think Phil Jackson was smart for doubling Ewing to force him to shoot 15% in the second half.” Of course the only reason I would say something like that was because SportsCenter told me that stat while I was watching it the night before. Mind you, this of course was before the days when everyone had a Blackberry to check who the Giants drafted at the click of the bottom while you are a groomsman at your sister’s wedding (Eli Manning if you are playing at home).

The nightly edition of SportsCenter gave us ammunition to debate in gym class about whether Magic was better than Larry, or if Dennis Rodman was sane. Our sick days from schools used to consist of SportsCenter, The Price is Right, and then the same SportsCenter five more times. That was the beauty – with so many great highlights combined with great commentary, you could watch an episode over and over again.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we’re witnessing the end of an era. SportsCenter, my third parent, is officially dead. Now, I realize I’m pissing on hallowed ground here, that criticizing SportsCenter is like questioning Bruce Springsteen’s blue-collar credentials, but we have to stop living in denial. Unfortunately somewhere in the mid to late 90s, SportsCenter started to try to become hip, edgy, and trendy instead of just reporting the sports news. Gone forever are the days of the late 80s and early 90s when I'd wake up and get to watch real sports journalists plow through comprehensive clips of all of the prior night’s games in all of the major sports. Instead now, viewers have to deal with smarmy wannabe comedians trying to deliver pun induced catchphrases about how Kobe Bryant is as cool as the other side of the pillow and when LeBron rises for a dunk, “it’s levitation, Holmes”. Really? You’re going to expect me to sit and watch at home and laugh about how clever the anchor is for telling me LeBron James can jump high while dunking? What happened to the good old days of Steve Levy just telling me that Wayne Gretzkey had 2 goals and an assist in a 3-0 victory over the Nordiques?

Obviously with the rise of the Internet, sports blogs, the Iphone, and numerous other devices that keep people connected and up to date on sports, ESPN had to come up with a way to keep its viewers coming back for me. So gone are our fond memories of the days when SportsCenter used to show highlights. Those were simpler times. We are now living in a post-9/11 world. Terrorists want to eat our entrails. So SportsCenter went the Fox News route and began focusing on mini-debates and flashy graphics. Mangini or Belichick? Brady or Manning? Sox or Yankees? Fact or Fiction? Contender or Pretender? Pick a side, we’re at war. Today, if you watch an episode more than once, you’ll have a seizure from all the hot air and flashing colors.

As far as I can tell, SportsCenter’s Britney-like tailspin commenced about the same time Stuart Scott started wearing glasses for his lazy eye. Boo-yah! Since then, the Big Show has been like one giant ADD-fest. How many segments can you possibly cram into an hour? SC Rewind, What2Watch4, Now on, Field Pass, Take Your Pick, SC Film Session, Fantasy Minute (sounds like my dream about Jessica Biel), My Wish, Who’s Now, SC Express, See Tom Brady Cure Cancer, Watch Tim Tebow part the Red Sea, etc.

As if these segments weren’t bad enough, now we have the sponsored segments. Watching SportsCenter is starting to have the same artificial feeling as listening to Mike without the Mad Dog. There’s the Budweiser Hot Seat, Coors Light Cold Hard Facts, Miller Lite Good Call Bad Call (in case you were wondering, that one’s brought to you by Miller Lite), Gatorade Ultimate Highlight, Hardly the Usual Top Ten presented by Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Now they leave the stats up for about five milliseconds so that they can rush to show the Natty Light logo.

What happened to the tried and true formula of highlights, stats, (repeat 20 times), standings, highlights, stats, standings, top plays, Did You Know? What happened to the segments baseball, football, hockey, basketball, golf?

SportsCenter was so great because it was so simple: maximize the highlights, minimize the fluff. The sports were the entertainment. Now, SportsCenter tries (really hard) to entertain us, and fails.

Ironically, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network has finally lived up to its name – entertainment first, sports second – and that has been its downfall. Fact or Fiction: SportsCenter is damaged beyond repair? Fact.

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