Jay Rothman calls them "the wow guys," the trio of broadcasters headlining the now downscaled main set for ESPN's coverage of the first and second round of the NFL Draft on April 28-29.
In a major distribution shift of its on-air talent, ESPN has dramatically reduced the number of front-facing (TV term!) staffers who will work the first two days of the NFL Draft. Chris Berman, Jon Gruden and Mel Kiper will be on the main set for the network's Thursday (Round 1) and Friday night (Round 2) coverage. And that's it.
"These are the guys to me, no disrespect to any of the other analysts, these are the wow guys," said Rothman, the senior coordinating producer for Monday Night Football and the ESPN executive in charge of producing the draft. "Chris is the face of the NFL studio shows. He has a passion for the draft; he's done it for 30 years. It means a lot to him. I don't have to sell you on Mel, and Jon is more dialed in than any analyst I have worked with."
The main set talent for coverage of Rounds 3-7 on Saturday (April 30) will consist of host Trey Wingo and analysts Trent Dilfer, Kiper and Todd McShay. Adam Schefter and Chris Mortenson will serve as reporters on a separate set at New York City's Radio City Music Hall for Rounds 1-7, while Suzy Kolber will do Green Room interviews for Rounds 1 and 2 and then move to Bristol to anchor a set consisting of Herm Edwards, Tedy Bruschi and Ron Jaworski.
"We're lean and mean this year," said Rothman "I've done enough of these where philosophically you want to get in front of the picks. When we are reacting to the picks, it's not as compelling a show. The more talent you have and the more analysts you have, the heavier the show is. The biggest challenge for television at the draft is the 10-minute clock, which is not really a 10-minute clock. The truth of the matter is teams don't use all that clock time."
Rothman said coverage of the first and second rounds will not be bogged down with post-pick interviews. ESPN's Saturday coverage will focus heavily on team evaluations, so expect plenty of coaches and executives to pop on. The network will have 8 to 10 reporters deployed at team sites and Rothman said he also plans to be in the homes of 25 draft prospects, featuring reaction shots and interviews .The network will also have a presence at whatever event the NFLPA holds. Jeremy Schaap will report from the NFLPA site.
Few television producers are more enthusiastic about talent than Rothman, and he has long championed Gruden the way
This column has noted often -- and will continue to note -- that it views Berman as an agent of the NFL, an auxiliary public relations person for Camp Goodell and Co. (I wholeheartedly recommend public relations professors at universities show students Berman's previous draft interviews with the NFL Commissioner). The draft at its core is a news show, and would be better served by a host with journalistic instincts.
I consistently hear from readers and sports bloggers about how the show would improve with Wingo as the lead host. These people are entirely correct, and the hope is that ESPN management will one day see the sweet light. (I'll also note here that I received a ton of reader e-mails last year praising the NFL Network's draft coverage, featuring the incomparable Mike Mayock.)
"I feel between Mel and Jon, fans will get the complete comprehensive positive and negatives of these players," Rothman said. "Between Adam and Mort, I feel we are dialed into the league. I can tell you Chris has been working his ass off. These guys are not fillbusters. What they have to say is meaningful and it matters."
Here's Rothman on a couple of other interesting draft-related items.
We all want football and fans are fatigued by the legalities, and those legalities are also complicated. I think where it is fair game is how it affects the draft. If there is no free agency, teams that were filling spots with free agents now have to draft with that in mind. The latter rounds become that much more important. There is more pressure on the teams to get it right. So in terms of all the machinations regarding how it affects the draft is where we want to go. To bog fans down in the technicalities of labor talk would slow down the draft. I think our pre-draft shows will relate to that as well.
The MLB Network is in the midst of an ambitious series featuring a countdown of the top 20 baseball games of the past 50 years. The series, "
On Sunday (7 p.m.) MLB Network will examine Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series between the Mets and Astros. Jesse Orosco, Darryl Strawberry, and Bob Knepper will be the in-studio guests.
The following week's show (April 24) highlights Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series between the Braves and Pirates. Sid Bream, Mark Lemke and Andy Van Slyke are the guests. (As part of the conversation, Van Slyke told MLB Network that on the Francisco Cabrera game-winning hit, he motioned to Barry Bonds to move in. Bonds responded by giving him the finger, and the ball ended up landing exactly where Van Slyke said to play).
Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson will get together for a conversation that airs May 1 on Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. MLB Network officials believe it is the first time Buckner and Wilson have sat together for a taped interview. The final game of the 1991 World Series -- featuring the Game 7 duel between Minnesota's Jack Morris and Atlanta's John Smoltz -- will air on May 8. Morris and Smoltz join Costas for the telecast.
The final show of the series, which will be taped this week in Boston, features a fantastic panel (Invites have gone out to Reds icons Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan and Red Sox star Carlton Fisk; Fred Lynn is confirmed) on Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. That two-hour show will air May 15.
"What we tried to do was to make it more interactive like a Director's Cut on a DVD," said Bruce Cornblatt, the producer of "20 Greatest Games" and a senior coordinating producer at MLB Network. "Our vision was akin to we're in the kitchen, the game is in the living room, the sound is down, and you have people that played in that game talking over and through the game. That seemed different to me than playing a section of the game and then coming back to the studio to talk about what we just saw. We wanted to have these people in the game stop remembering it and start reliving it. When I know we have something is when the guests start talking in the present tense rather than the past. And that's happened a bunch of times."
Viewers have come to accept that sports such as golf and tennis tend toward advocacy and cheerleading (I'll note here that I would normally not include the professional Macatee in this crowd) than hard-edged coverage, but the Masters offered fawning over Woods at its silliness. (That said, the production of the event itself was excellent.) Sports divisions clearly run scared of Woods freezing them out after a match -- Woods famously refused to do interviews with Peter Kostis for some time -- but if the golfer is going to give you attitude and non-answers, what exactly are you losing?
Comedian Norm Macdonald's "Sports Show With Norm MacDonald," premieres on Comedy Central April 12 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. The show will offer Macdonald's weekly observations on the sports world. I interviewed the comedian for the magazine this week. Here are some extras from the interview:
Broadcaster Chris Carrino, the longtime play-by-play voice of the Nets and a basketball announcer for NBC at the Beijing Olympics, revealed this week that