Tim McCarver will not go quietly into the night; ESPN demotes OTL
Tim McCarver is unapologetically old school. He does not do Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. He prefers to write things out longhand and uses 12-inch yellow legal pads to make notes for his broadcast. He is talking inside Fox's cramped booth at Citi Field and makes one thing clear: He is not retiring. The All-Star Game is two hours away. It will be his last.
For some, this is welcome news. McCarver has an armada of online detractors, with many of the complaints focused on his being too repetitive and patronizing with his baseball analysis (Cliff Corcoran addressed this smartly here). I am not among the haters, and I imagine a large part is because I first watched McCarver as a Mets broadcaster in the 1980s, when his ability to first-guess felt revolutionary among game analysts. McCarver is well aware of the criticism, but says it has zero impact on him. "Style has a lot to with it, I guess, but I have always tried to be as honest as I could. and whatever I see, I say generally," McCarver said. "Sometimes to my detriment, but not often."
McCarver is not one for reflection, but admits his final broadcast for Fox, which comes at the conclusion of the World Series, is on his mind. He said his passion for calling the sport remains as strong as ever, but the traveling has become more difficult. He will be 72 in October.
"I am very happy with this decision," he said. "I'm not changing my mind. I have thought about this for a couple of years. I've spent 150 nights a year in a hotel room some years and the postseason can be difficult. But things seem to have slowed down more this year. I find myself enjoying my business in the game even more than I ever have, and perhaps it is because of the finality. Maybe it is the mind telling the body or the body telling the mind to enjoy this because this will not be around next year. I am smiling more. I don't find myself reflective, but things have slowed down."
McCarver is not retiring from broadcasting. He emphasized this when Fox announced last March that he was leaving the booth at the end of season and again last week when SI.com sat down with him at Citi Field. He will take a long-awaited vacation in France after the baseball season is over, and as a wine connoisseur, plans to spend plenty of time at his home in Napa, Calif. "I don't want to speculate on what I am going to do, but I am not retiring," McCarver said. "I'm just backing away from the All-Star Game and the postseason. I will be involved in baseball, perhaps minisculely, if that is a word. I was prepared to do nothing next year or something, and what that something is, I don't know. I don't know the answer to that, but I think I will after I'm away from it for a couple of months."
What will be next? McCarver would be a major name for a local baseball broadcast or for the MLB Network. If he were willing to consider a studio role, he'd likely have his pick of spots, including Fox Sports 1. (He has ruled out ESPN as a landing spot.) As for a studio role, McCarver said he still likes going to the ballpark. "I have not had any feelers or anything like that," McCarver said. "I just don't know. That's why I just can't speculate ... I have never been a position where I am backing off and not being in this sport. Can I do a few games if I want to? Yeah, but I don't know if a network wants a part-time guy who comes in when he wants to. I would think from their standpoint, they would want to bind me to them contractually in some way."
Fox has no succession plan yet. Turner's John Smoltz has been mentioned as a candidate and has known Buck for years, so there is familiarity among the two men. Look for SI's Tom Verducci to be considered, as well as any high-profile player or manager who leaves the game. How interested is McCarver in his successor? "I am curious but it is not my business really," he said. "If they ask me my opinion -- and I don't think they will -- I would give them my honest opinion. I would tell them not to the detriment of anyone else but to the benefit of who I thought would be the right man. It would be confidential between them and me and whether it would have an impact is not my concern."
The only guarantee McCarver offered: He will watch Fox's broadcast next season. "Joe and I are so close, and I will follow his career until I die," McCarver said.
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. ESPN management and its armada of public relations professionals have long used "Outside The Lines" as an example of the network's commitment to journalism -- and there is plenty of truth to that messaging. You don't employ reporters such as Don Van Natta, T.J. Quinn, Mark Fainaru-Wada, Kelly Naqi and Paula Lavigne unless you are serious about sports investigative journalism. The show's leadership, including senior coordinating producers Dwayne Bray and David Brofsky, is respected company-wide, as are regular hosts Bob Ley and Jeremy Schaap. The work of OTL is also always cited by ESPN executives whenever the brand gets too Baylessian and becomes addicted to the noxious Embrace Debate culture.
So it was troubling to read last week -- buried deep in a press release -- that ESPN management had shifted the Sunday edition of "Outside The Lines" from ESPN to ESPN2 and will now air the program one hour earlier at 8:00 a.m. ET. The shift in time slot and networks is a de facto burying of the show.
What replaces OTL on Sunday? A new hour-long program ("Cowherd on Football") focusing on both college and pro football discussion and commentary featuring ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd, a talented talker who too often specializes in non-fact-based socioeconomic generalizations with zero reporting. But Cowherd gets people talking, which makes him a favorite of those Bristol executives who live for debate. It's also a football show, which will likely rate higher than OTL because of the subject matter. Additionally, management moved OTL from its current spot on ESPN at 3:00 p.m. to a less favorable spot on ESPN2 at 4:30 p.m. ET with a lead-in (Highly Questionable) that has shifted itself amid a struggle with ratings. I'm told OTL staffers knew about the moves long before it was released to the public, and you can imagine how disheartened and devastated they felt it about it.
So, no, Outside The Lines is not being canceled, and yes, I'll expect to get (more) emails from ESPN PR telling me that OTL content will still be all over the brand. Sell that soap all you want, but the show was just significantly devalued by management. Just a shame.
2. Here's my piece on Keith Olbermann's return to ESPN. I'll also have a reported essay on the topic in week's Scorecard section of Sports Illustrated.
2a. ESPN's hiring of Nate Silver was an inspiring transaction in that Silver represents the best of punditry, one that comes with intelligence, fact-based reporting, and without screaming. I'm told that Silver's main focus will be to continue build his FiveThirtyEight brand for both ESPN and ABC. As for his role on Olbermann's show, he'll be an occasional guest but not a full-time panelist. On Sunday, Politico ran a long piece about how Silver was wooed to ESPN. The details of all this should come out Monday, with the exception of how much the Bristol ATM dropped on Silver. The New Republic's Marc Tracy had a strong piece on what Silver's move means to ESPN and The New York Times.
3. The halcyon days for world soccer fans have arrived, with both ESPN and Fox Sports 1 debuting daily soccer shows next month, in addition to NBC's mega-coverage of the English Premier League. (I'll have plenty of stuff on NBC and the EPL come August.) "ESPN FC on TV" debuts Aug. 11 and will air Sunday through Friday on ESPN2. (Note: The show will air at 5:30 p.m. from Monday-Friday and at midnight on Sunday). The 30-minute news and highlights show will focus primarily on the Barclays Premier League, UEFA Champions League, Spain's La Liga, Major League Soccer, the U.S. men's national team and the Mexican national team. Given ESPN's commitment to soccer, I have very high hopes for a quality show.
The hosts for "ESPN FC on TV" include SportsCenter anchor Max Bretos and Dan Thomas (who has fronted "ESPN FC Press Pass" in the U.K. for the past two years). There will be five regular analysts for the show, and you can expect those names to be announced this week. Bretos worked for Fox Soccer Channel prior to his ESPN tenure, and his passion for soccer was clearly evident, even when his over-the-top style became annoying. On Saturday, I asked Steve Palese, the coordinating producer for "ESPN FC on TV," to answer a couple of questions for soccer viewers. How would Palese describe the editorial philosophy of "ESPN FC on TV?" "Editorially, the show will be an extension of ESPNFC.com," Palese wrote in an email. "The Sunday show will be more highlight driven, but every day, ESPN FC will offer analysis, discussion and reporting on the top stories in the sport. The show will have a global feel while also offering extensive coverage of the U.S. national team and MLS."
Asked why soccer viewers should invest their time with "ESPN FC on TV," Palese said, "The quality and variety of talent available and the variety of topics that will be covered on a daily basis will make the show informative and enjoyable to soccer fans in the United States. One of the great things about ESPN FC is that if we run out of time on a particular topic, we can always continue the conversation on ESPNFC.com after the show. The reverse will also be true. If there is an article or video analysis piece that is creating a lot of discussion from fans on the site, we will carry that discussion over to the show."
3a. "Fox Soccer Daily" debuts on Fox Sports 1 on Aug. 19 at 4:00 p.m. ET. The live half-hour show -- originating from Los Angeles weekdays -- will feature soccer news, highlights and analysis. The show will cover the major soccer leagues and competitions across the globe with an emphasis on Europe and North America. When contacted by SI.com on Sunday on behalf of soccer fans everywhere, Fox Sports turned down the opportunity to expand on what viewers can expect editorially from the show. They also did not make an executive available. "We think we'll offer soccer fans a terrific, comprehensive show, but since 'Fox Soccer Daily' received a green light a few days ago, there is still much detail to be worked out over the next month," a spokesperson said. "We're starting the process a little late, but we'll be ready to go on August 19."
4. Baseball's All-Star Game ratings continue to trend badly for Fox Sports, as last week's game finished tied for the second-lowest rated and second-least viewed ASG of all time. Sports Media Watch and Ad Age crunched the numbers.
5. Fox Sports 1 announced the staffing last week for the new Regis Philbin daily sports discussion show -- the exclamation point-happy Crowd Goes W!ld -- and host Philbin will be joined by comedian Michael Kosta, Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay, former NFL defensive end Trevor Pryce, and the former Sky Sports host and news anchor Georgie Thompson. Guyism.com staffer Katie Nolan will serve as the show's social-media correspondent. The show's executive producer, Michael Davies, said the format will be dictated by the sports news of the day. "We will start with Regis talking at the top of the show about what he did last night, talking about what is going on in the world of sports and what's in the news cycle," Davies said in a release.
The hour-long show debuts Aug. 19 and will air weekdays at 5:00 p.m. ET, a tough time slot to get viewer traction. But one thing you can't teach in television is likeability, and Philbin has that, even at age 81. (Gay is also one of the best working sports columnists today, and Thompson has a major social media following among EPL soccer fans.) There have been far worse ideas on sports television, so we'll see where this goes. Panel chemistry, obviously, is going to be huge here.
6. The NHL has released its regular-season television schedule for the 2013-14 season, and the NBC Sports Group will air 103 NHL regular-season games, including 90 games on NBC Sports Network and 13 games on NBC. All games will be streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra. NBC Sports Network debuts its coverage on Oct. 1 with the Capitals at Blackhawks.
6a. The 2014 NHL Winter Classic -- traditionally the most-viewed game of the regular season -- will air Jan. 1, 2014 on NBC at 1:00 p.m. from Michigan Stadium. The game features the Maple Leafs and Red Wings. There will also be four games played in outdoor venues between Jan. 25 and Mar. 2, including Dodger Stadium (Jan. 25, 10 p.m.), Yankee Stadium (Jan. 26, 1 p.m. ET and Jan. 29, 7:00 p.m.), Soldier Field (Mar. 1, 8:00 p.m.) and the NHL Heritage Classic (Mar. 2, 7:30 p.m.) at BC Place in Vancouver.
6b. The NBC Sports Network will feature 24 Wednesday Night Rivalry telecasts -- up from 15 last year.
6c. NBC will air its first game on Nov. 29, with a Thanksgiving showdown in Boston featuring the Rangers and Bruins. Beginning on January 19, and continuing through the end of the regular season, NBC will air a national Game of the Week on most Sundays.
6d. The Bruins will appear on NBC and NBC Sports Network 13 times, the most of any NHL team. The Blackhawks, Blues, Penguins, Rangers and Wild will each make 12 appearances. The Capitals, Flyers, Red Wings and Sabres will appear 11 times.
7. Sports pieces of note this week:
• The Boston Globe's Chad Finn profiled Peter's King new MMQB site.
• Bloomberg Businessweek examined Fox Sports 1's quest to topple ESPN, a piece that no doubt had Fox Sports PR people high-fiving on the streets of Los Angeles.
• Miami Herald writer Dan LeBatard wrote a terrific profile of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez:
Three non-sports pieces of note:
• Brilliant work by Tampa Bay Times writer Lane DeGregory on a 99-year-old man who lives to work.
• A fascinating Economist obit on a female Soviet night bomber.
• This book review on one of Britain's most daring World War II special agents reads like a can't-miss movie script.
8. The ratings for the ESPYs continue to tank, perhaps a sign that the annual exercise in self-aggrandizement needs to be re-tooled. The show drew an average of 2.3 million viewers, down six percent from 2012. It was the fourth-least viewed ESPY Awards show since 1996.
8a. Deadspin's John Koblin wrote a take-no-prisoners piece on how much money ESPN spends on the ESPYs.
8b. The runaway best moment from the show was a rousing speech by "Good Morning America" anchor and former ESPN-er Robin Roberts, who was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
9. Fox Sports announced that Michael Hughes has been named executive producer for "Fox Sports Live," which is the network's flagship news, opinion and highlights program. He'll be a key player in shaping whether this program is serious about news or merely a "Best Damn Sports Show, Period" for the Instagram generation.
9b. Other notable production announcements: Fox Sports said Bardia Shah-Rais will oversee its studio production for Fox College Thursday and Fox College Saturday as well as well as FS1's Big East basketball studio production and select MLB studio coverage. Shah-Rais spent the last eight seasons at NFL Network where he oversaw production of "Thursday Night Football" and "NFL Total Access." NFL Network officials were furious when Shah-Rais was raided by Murdoch Land. As one NFL Network exec told me last May: "He's phenomenal, and that's an understatement. It's a huge loss for us." But Shah-Rais has heavy lifting ahead of him. Fox's college football coverage has been lightweight editorially compared to ESPN, and some talent moves made this summer have been head-scratching if national credibility remains a long-term goal.
9c. ESPN says that 50 college football head coaches will visit its Bristol, Conn., headquarters from July 22 to August 1. The schedule includes coaches from the SEC (July 22-23); Pac-12 (July 24-25); ACC (July 29-30) and Big Ten (July 31-August 1). Among the high-profile names: LSU coach Les Miles and Alabama coach Nick Saban (Monday afternoon), Florida coach Will Muschamp and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier (July 23), Stanford coach David Shaw (July 24), USC coach Lane Kiffin (July 25) and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer (July 31). The questions Meyer receives will be interesting given the kid-gloves treatment ESPN has normally bestowed on its former employees.
9d. Sirius XM Radio hired former Auburn University football coach Gene Chizik to co-host multiple shows each week on SiriusXM College Sports Nation, channel 91.
10. The hosts for ESPN's Open Championship coverage -- Mike Tirico, Scott Van Pelt and ESPN Radio's Bob Wischusen -- did sensational work during the tournament. Once again, when ESPN sends a professional host (e.g. Rece Davis, Chris Fowler, Ley) to an event and the host opts to make the broadcast about the event and not about the host, they get a great broadcast.
10a. Fox Sports 1 revealed its first promotional spot, a 90-second video titled "Happy Days Are Here Again." The song is best remembered as the campaign song for Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his 1932 Presidential election run.
10b. HBO's "Real Sports" with Bryant Gumbel has a promising story this Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET as correspondent Soledad O'Brien investigates charges of ethnicity-based preferential treatment at Chivas USA of the MLS.
10c. The first FIVB sanctioned Grand Slam tournament in the U.S. -- the World Series of Beach Volleyball from Long Beach, Calif. -- will air on NBC, NBC Sports Network, and Universal Sports Network from July 25 to 28.
10d. Bluefoot TV produced a series of terrific video essays for ESPN's coverage of The Open Championship. Check them out here.