Thursday, August 2, 2007

I Don't Want my ESPN

During Wednesday night’s Rescue Me Denis Leary, defending the heroics of his suicidal chief, looks at Daniel Sunjata and asks him “The Bronx is Burning? You ever hear of that?”

Well, Sunjata probably did, since he stars as Reggie Jackson in the ESPN mini-series of the same name, unfortunately the reference was missed by everybody else, because it’s doubtful anyone saw the premire.

It was scheduled for 10:00 at the end of the homerun derby, which went from being the summer’s premiere event to bowling show ugly in the space of 30 at bats. The contest, which should be renamed “The History of the Pop-Up,” ran so long that the kids catching the balls in centerfield formed a union and threatened to strike.

But mercifully it pushed The Bronx is Burning far past its 10:00 starting time, which, along with Ryan Howard taking a pitch the size of Rose O’Donnell’s left cheek and grounding it back up the middle, insured the target audience was fast asleep.

Now maybe we can live with an ESPN mini-series airing after the homerun derby, when the sports world is dark, but starting this week it will air while games are being played. I don’t think Cinemax will be broadcasting the White Sox game, unless they sign a bunch of Hooters waitresses and during the seventh inning stretch order pizza from a vendor named Pork, so I don’t know why ESPN needs to be showing a movie. This is the network that I go to when the only acting I want to see is Manu Ginobili skid across the floor like he came off a toboggan at the first turn in the Winter Games.

For anyone interested the series stars John Turturro, who is cast whenever a director needs a New Yorker, as Billy Martin, and Oliver Platt, best known for, um, Oliver? as George Steinbrenner, a thankless role, since no one will do Steinbrenner better than Larry David chastising George Costanza. I don’t have a problem with the show, I’m sure everyone is very talented, I just wish the thing had gone straight to DVD and not on my sports network.

Sunday night at 8:00 I settled in for ESPN’s telecast to find the game in the seventh inning with the Cardinals up three touchdowns. I first checked all the clocks in the house to make sure I hadn’t had another one of my “spells” and lost three hours, and when I determined I hadn’t, checked the cable guide, and saw that the game had started early so they could broadcast the ESPYS at 9:00.

Now if you find the ESPYS entertaining, you should do what Chief Jerry did that caused Denis Leary to defend him to Daniel Sunjata and clean your fingernails, pluck your nose hair, and then put a gun in your mouth and blow the back of your head off you big gay man you.

Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, who is constantly walking a tightrope between the Conan O’Brien and Fred Travelena sides of his personality, and Mr. Entertainment himself, Lebron James, the ESPYS pass themselves off as a celebration of athletic achievement but are really ESPN’s celebration of ESPN.

Having the ESPYS is like having CNN present the CNNYS. “And now for the nominee for the President Who Screwed up Their Country the Most the Nominees are: George W. Bush; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Ill and Nuri Al-Malki.”

The reason we have movie, television and music award shows is we don’t have competitions to see who were the most accomplished acts in their field. The picture that wins the Oscar is the best picture of that year. If we didn’t keep score in games, or declare a champion, maybe we’d need a sports award show. The team that wins the World Series is the best baseball team. The team that wins the ESPY for best team provides free advertising for the network.

ESPN has become such a controlling figure in sports that Kevin Durant can miss a developmental league game to attend and Lebron James can do a song and dance number. If every fan in each enemy arena doesn’t ride him for that every second he’s on the floor they should turn their tickets in at the gate.

There was even an After the ESPYS show, which I did not see, but I am sure will be shown a thousand times. I think it was mostly Adam Carolla interviewing hookers about who they would be going home with. “You got LT? You go girl!”

Part of my ill feeling to the sports leader is the announcement that Dan Patrick would be leaving, the last tie to broadcasters whose intent was to put the game over and not themselves, who, like with Craig Kilborn or Keith Olberman, used clever quips to add to the broadcast, not overwhelm it. They had personality. Stephen Smith is a personality.

There was a time when ESPN reporters managed to keep a distance between themselves and their subjects, but now interviews consist of fluff questions followed by a fist pump. ESPN reporters have fallen into the trap that Phillip Seymour Hoffman explained in Almost Famous. “They are going to buy you drinks, they are going get your girls, and they are going to make you think you are cool, and you are definitely not cool.” Reporters, except for Hunter Thompson, have never been cool. Smart celebrities and athletes make them think they are and then use them to their own ends.

When it comes to quality non-event sports television the sports leader continually has its butt handed it by HBO with Costas Now, Real Sports, and films like The Ghosts of Flatbush. While Bob Ley still does a fine job with Outside the Lines it gets publicized with 10% of the emphasis The Bronx is Burning or ESPN Hollywood does.

The flagship for ESPN, Sportscenter has damaged sports, convincing every youth that the only successful basketball play is a one-on-one move that ends with a dunk; a base hit is useless as compared to a “back, back, back” homerun; and a smart play that helps you win will end up on the Sportscenter cutting room floor while a flamboyant play that leads to a loss will get you on the highlight reel. There is no I in Sportscenter, but there is not U either, so given the choice, I’m going with me.

To ratchet up the annoyance factor Sportscenter is asking viewers to help determine what athlete is the most “Now.” The only times I have ever been in an argument over who was now was in a barbershop and a whorehouse. I’m not even sure what it means so I voted for Sammy Hagar.

I wonder if in the not to distant future ESPN will be broadcasting sports. Twenty years ago it seemed ridiculous that MTV would not be showing videos. Maybe ESPN Cribs will take up their time: (“This week Pac-man Jones:” “Yeah, this is my bunk, and this is the toilet where I shit, and these are the bars I hold on to when I’m yelling at the screws.”) and movies like “Millar Time” the story of the 2004 Red Sox with Kevin James as Kevin Millar.

If you’re reading this then you know what ESPN doesn’t. There are millions of sources to get sports news and opinions, and millions of people who seek it, and not award shows or poorly scripted movies. If ESPN wants to be the leader in sports coverage, then it needs to lead, because right now where they’re going I don’t want to follow.

1 comment:

Rashad said...

Daniel Sunjata is a joke. Here in his hometown of Evanston, Il. instead of being a stand up hometown hero he is known as a lowlife shmuck. He ran out on his two children mothered by different women - 6 months apart. The man has no credibility. He has been sued repeatedly by his baby’s Mamas and his children live on welfare. He only pays when he wants. He has a bad reputation of being a player and cheating on his girlfriend. He uses women for sex by conning them thinking he’s single and a political guy. If you’re looking for a hero fictional or otherwise look elsewhere.