In sports television there are few segments more irksome than those featuring contrived arguments. ESPN has had its share of spectacularly annoying examples in this genre, and the
The painful memory of those segments flashed back Saturday as I watched
The Saturday show concluded the NFL's first three-day and primetime draft, a programming change that could not have gone better for the league and its TV partners. The draft was watched by a combined 45.4 million viewers on ESPN, ESPN2 and NFL Network, an increase of 16 percent from 2009 (39 million viewers). It was the
That brings us back to ESPN's coverage, and its final day in particular. There's no question the Saturday telecast is a much different broadcast. You can miss podium picks, there's no reaction shots to consider, and analysts can really chew into a discussion. So I recognize the first round is the harder production when I make the following recommendation:
ESPN should make the quintet of Wingo, Kiper, Jaworski, McShay and
Wingo lives and breathes the sport 365 days a year as the host of
No doubt there are those who enjoy Berman's showmanship and passion for the draft. There's an argument to be made that his job is simply to pilot the ship. That's fair, but I'm a selfish viewer and I want my pilot to ask tough questions of league people and players without taking into account whether he or she will be at a golf outing hosted by that player the following week.
McShay and Kiper have developed chemistry and respect each other on-camera. Jaworski is one of the most prepared analysts in the history of the game; I never feel cheated when I watch him. Gruden has fantastic insight into the league -- especially offensive players -- and he's energetic and prepared. Yes, he's too Johnny Positive when it comes to draft picks, but Kiper and McShay can balance that. My cast is not a referendum on
Do I think we will ever see this crew? I do not. There's a marketing component to all of this and ESPN wants stars such as Berman on its most-watched platform. But
"I'm probably going to suggest that we drastically reduce our number of on-air people for next year," he said. "I'm talking about Thursday and Friday night. It's hard to stay true to the draft and not miss a pick and still give a little background on the players. I'm not saying we did a bad job. You do the best you can. But it is unscripted. It's not a clean and polished and pretty show like
There were certain talking points that arose from ESPN's and NFL Network's coverage last weekend, especially if you monitored the coverage on Twitter. On Sunday, I contacted Rothman and NFL Network executive producer
Rothman: "Steve has a lot to add. I guess I would not give ourselves an 'A' for being completely balanced on that set. But when it comes to the quarterback, Steve has a lot to say. He's a really smart guy. But I'd have to go back to the film and really dissect it. I guess there could be times when any one of our guys could have gone off on tangents. But I think Steve is a brilliant guy and when he has something to say, he'll say it."
Rothman: "Jon is a passionate guy. He is a really upbeat, positive person. He's one of those guys who finds the good in everyone and he loves his quarterbacks, as you know. Jon is not a ripper, per se. He's not a negative guy. But I think he can be constructive. That's just who Jon is. If you sat down with him and watched tape with him, he could do positive and negative evaluations. Maybe he could be more constructive or objective, but Jon is a guy who likes to find the good in people. He lets other people be the naysayers."
Rothman: "I took him off, but let's start with this: Next to Mel and McShay, nobody was more prepared than Jon. He had written reports of his own that were 20 deep at each position. He was sickly prepared for this thing. But after Friday night, I knew we were bringing McShay down to be with Mel, which would be unique and different. I knew Jaworski was on the set and we were firing up another set in Bristol with
"So it was about 12:30 a.m. Friday night, he was tired and his voice was gone. I just said to him, 'You know what, you don't have to do this.' He said, 'No, no no. I'm going to do this. I studied for this.' I said, 'I don't want you to do this. You're exhausted and your voice is gone and the truth of the matter is I'm going to have five guys on the set again, which is difficult to navigate.'
"I don't make the final shots at ESPN, but I do oversee our NFL guys. I don't want to see Jon get lost in the sauce. He should be special. So to have him sit on a set of five on Saturday when Mel and McShay will be prominent, Jaws will be there, plus another set back in Bristol, I didn't want to do that to Jon.
"It makes me crazy to read irresponsible reporting saying Gruden quit.
That is such garbage. It's ridiculous. Here's the thing about Jon: He never wants to let anyone down. He is loyal and a man of his word."
Rothman: "It is not a perfect science, and the truth of the matter is only time will tell in terms of evaluating the evaluators. I know how hard Mel works and how hard he prepares. I told this to Gruden: 'You know what I love about Mel? He is the most humble guy. He is the nicest guy in the world and he has zero ego.'
"Mel does his work. He studies his tape. He has perspective. He talks to a lot of people in the league and he comes up with an educated opinion that is his opinion. And he does not mind if you bury him or criticize him. It is just his opinion. So in terms of your question, it happens. You have to evaluate the evaluators over time and see if indeed he was correct."
Rothman: "They are stars too, man, and they are talented. And I'm fine with that opinion. That's something we should evaluate too. But they have the luxury of not being beholden to the picks. If I said to you, we're going to do a show and we'll let you know who was picked when we get to it, well, that's kind of what Saturday is. What I love about Day 3 is you are not a slave to the picks. Day 3, you can pick a topic and go. You can pick a team's board and have a healthy conversation. You can go from point A to point B cleanly and not be a slave.
"Like I said, those guys are talented guys. Trey does a hell of a job. Jaws works his butt off. So three guys on that set are completely dialed in and Mel and Todd are great. We were never going to manufacture debate with them and, to be blunt, maybe at times in the past we have been capable of that. I was proud of what they did on Saturday and maybe it's something we move in the future."
Rothman: "Well, I loved it, and I think the league did a great job. We were up 25 percent against
And now Weinberger:
Weinberger: "I don't think its takes the drama away. I actually think it makes for a pretty amazing pacing. The teams call the players before the commissioner goes up to the podium. That means the player and agent know, and if teams are tweeting out their picks, we feel we have a journalistic responsibility to get it out there. That's why we do it.
"One of the best moments at the draft was when we had
Weinberger: "We knew that morning [Saturday] it would be a struggle. Mike came into the week with a bit of a cold and we tried to manage it as much as we could but it just gave out. I'll tell you, though, what he did on
Weinberger: "There is so much information over the three days and there is shockingly even more that we can still do. Using
Weinberger: "We were so happy with our talent. It was amazing.
Weinberger: "Yes. Maybe we can even do a round a night and do seven nights. That's what we were joking about in the truck, though you get in the round 5, 6 and 7 it starts getting a little tough. Why did I like the primetime draft? I just think more people get to see this unscripted sports reality show. You don't get much television like this: In the course of a minute, someone's life changes and you are able to see it. There is simply not much like that on television."