Changes on the air
After sifting through hundreds of e-mails relating to last month's 2006 Media Awards, the following four themes emerged:
• You like James Brown, Chris Fowler and Ron Franklin.
• You dislike Bryant Gumbel (as a play-by-play broadcaster) and Tim McCarver.
• You really dislike the celebrity interviews on ESPN's Monday Night Football. (But not more than you dislike Michael Irvin).
• SI.com is clearly overpaying me
Like Mark McGwire, however, we're not here to talk about the past. This space only looks forward. Now that Tony Kornhesier has decided to return for a second season of Monday Night Football, we can tackle other broadcasting and media issues. Here's are eight things I'd like to see happen in '07:
1. Brad Nessler, Dick Vermeil and Ron Jaworski working in a booth together: After the trio broadcast the Chargers-Raiders game on the NFL's opening weekend, SI.com readers came out in force to praise the broadcast. If an ESPN vice president feels like checking out football message boards across the Web, he or she will find nearly unanimous praise for their work. Or you can simply click here.
2. NFL Network analyst Charles Davis returning to Fox's BCS team next season: I promised to praise the BCS broadcast team of Thom Brenneman, Barry Alvarez and Davis if they exceeded my expectations. With that in mind I come bearing love for Davis, a slight nod of appreciation for Brenneman (who is hereby banned forever from uttering the phrase, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog") and a sincere wish for Alvarez to enjoy life as Wisconsin's athletic director. As if gifted from its own Temptation Island, this Fox crew was given a transcendent game with Boise State's victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl -- and Davis was up to the task. He was authoritative, engaging and proved prescient when Boise State opted to go for a game-winning two-point conversion in overtime. "This may sound like I am patting myself on the back and I hesitate to say it, but it wasn't one of those lucky guesses," Davis told SI.com this week. Though he won't be working as a college football game analyst in 2007 during the regular season -- he previously covered college football for TBS and can also be found on The Golf Channel -- Davis will be part of the NFL Network's College Football Saturday Scoreboard show this fall. (He has a multi-year deal with the NFL Network). A Fox Sports spokesman said the network's executives were "very happy" with Davis' performance.
3. Fox Soccer Channel and Gol TV assigning a reporter to cover David Beckham: Those of us who love soccer realize that Beckham the soccer player is past his prime. But Beckham as a cultural phenomenon is a major story and a golden opportunity for FSC and Gol to get some traction with the non-soccer public. Cover him the way ESPN covers Barry Bonds and Terrell Owens, and you'll own the story. Sadly, Pedro Gomez is not available.
4. ESPN creating a female version of The Sports Reporters: Here's what I don't see on the shows featuring competitive banter between writers turned talking heads: women. I made the same suggestion last year, which caused some male readers to opine that I had been given a shot of estrogen prior to writing. This year I forwarded the thought to Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president for production. He was kind enough to respond via a vice president in the communications department (I don't think you can work at ESPN without VP in your title). "The better execution is Sports Reporters with diverse contributors with diverse opinions," said Williamson. Well, we're all for that. But, really, how diverse is the show in its current form? It's a safe play to continue to hire the law firm of Lupica, Ryan, Albom and Rhoden (and drop in occasional summer associates Michael Kay, Dan LeBatard, Selena Roberts, and Stephen A. Smith). But if the network can find room for the World Paintball Championships, American Gun Dog and Tom Miranda's Advantage Adventures, I'd guess they can find a weekly 30-minute window on one of its network (ESPNU, anyone?) for Doris Burke. Michelle Tafoya, Dana Jacobson, Lisa Salters and a floating print reporter (Sally Jenkins, Lisa Olson, Jackie MacMullan, Roberts, Liz Robbins, etc.) to debate the topics of the week.
5. Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher working as a studio analyst: He's honest, he's a great communicator, and by September he may be stir crazy enough to travel once a week to a New York or Los Angeles studio. Take a shot, somebody.
6. NBC thinking outside the box for Football Night in America: With Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth and Peter King, NBC already has plenty of substance. Now it's time to get some sizzle. What FNIA needs (along with a better acronym) is someone interesting, dare we say even dangerous, to bring some energy and unexpectedness to the set. Tiki Barber in place of Sterling Sharpe would help but it's not a solution to the problem of competing against the conclusion of late games. ESPN actually had the right idea (in theory) a couple of years ago when they hired Rush Limbaugh for NFL Sunday Countdown. He raised ratings and created interest before he went off the tracks. My suggestion: Hire a smart and preferably humor-inclined personality as a full-time member alongside the football wonks. The ideal person would be Chris Rock -- a huge sports fan. Other interesting possibilities: Lewis Black or Dave Chappelle. A dream longshot? Bill Clinton.
7. Veteran broadcaster Ron Franklin getting some love: Reader Jim Carswell of Charleston, S.C. was one of a half-dozen or so readers who inquired about the ESPN veteran broadcaster. "What happened to Ron Franklin? Carswell wrote. "To me, he had become the voice of college football (after Keith Jackson's retirement), but I never see him anymore. Why is ESPN so dumb to decrease Ron Franklin's profile?" Well, that's an interesting question, and, I must admit, I was surprised to receive any e-mails on Franklin. Last fall he was dropped from ESPN's College Football Primetime Saturday broadcast after 15 years in the slot. (He was replaced by Mike Patrick). All was not lost: Franklin got a raise, a new contact (he has another year on his deal and an option), and was reassigned to ESPN2's College Football Primetime. He called a couple of bowl games on ESPN Radio (including the Fiesta Bowl) and is now calling Big 12 basketball on ESPN and ESPN2. With his deep Mississippi pipes that scream Southern football, Franklin is a favorite of some bloggers. No argument here. The guy is as solid as oak. SI.com tracked him down last week in Manhattan, Kansas prior to broadcasting the Kansas State-Texas Tech game. "You don't do something as long as I did and not miss it," Franklin said of switch from ESPN to ESPN2. "I've taken the high road on this and I really haven't said anything negative to anybody. I really don't want to start now. But I don't know if that opportunity will afford itself again." For Franklin fans, the good news is that he doesn't plan on hanging it up anytime soon. "I'll be 65 in a month," he said, "but I'm a long way from wanting to retire."
8. A lifetime ban on life-size caricatures of your favorite ESPN personalities racing during the halftime of pro football games. Why? Click here.