Sunday, August 14, 2005

Thanks, ESPN, for reminding me why I hate everything

It's a conversation we've all had a million times. The conversation about how MTV no longer shows anything which can be considered "music television". It's a youth pop culture network and nothing more. When M2 started, the argument was that it would be a network where they'd actually show music all day. They basically gave up on the pretense that the original network would do that kind of thing. Then the slippery slope continued. Now, MTV2 rarely shows videos either. It's just a marathon of WildBoyz followed by an episode of Stankervision, followed by Beavis and Butthead for two hours. The argument, I suppose, is that if you want videos, watch MTV Jamz or MTV Hits (which don't really show a lot of the music I'd like to see). My point isn't that every single MTV and MTV2 show is bad (obvs, Wonder Showzen and the Real World Challenges rule). And if more people want to watch an episode of Punk'd for the 45th time instead of new videos, I can't really blame the network dudes for trying to make more money. But it isn't what I want to watch. VH-1 is even worse. Well, maybe it isn't. They do the exact same thing only with lamer shows. Probably the only thing that makes it worse is the slogan "Music First", which I don't know if they still use since I don't watch it. What sucks is the way both of these networks went from doing one thing that I liked (videos) to doing a bunch of original programming and celebrity recut bullshit (and repeating ad infinitum). And now what I liked to watch is spread out over like 8 channels and kind of hard to find.

Which brings me to ESPN. In Mexico, I watched some of their ESPN channels and I was stunned to notice something. They show sports. Like, all day long. Sportscenter is on at like 9 in the morning for an hour, and then at 6 in the evening and 11. They have Cronometro, which is a roundtable show that's on once a week. Then they have a weekly car racing show. Then the other 140 hours a week they show things like volleyball or track and field or swimming or soccer or baseball or shit, anything. It ought not be so startling - a sports network actually showing sporting events - but it is. And it is because ESPN here fills about half its hours (or more) with shows about sporting events, instead of the actual events. You have the talking head shows: PTI, Around the Horn, The Stephen A. Smith yelling hour, Rome, etc. Then there's the preview or recap shows, which usually amount to more airtime than the actual events themselves - College Gameday, NFL Countdown, NBA Shootaround, Baseball Tonight, NFL 2Night, RPM 2Night, etc. And now there's plenty of "original programming" to displace actual sports - Poker, Tilt, Poker, Stump the Sweaty Dude, Poker, The Stu Scott Boo-Yaa Hour, Poker, Hu$tle, Poker, 3, Poker, The Junction Boys, Poker, Newlywed Game with teammates (stealing programming ideas from NFL Network parody ads?), The Contender, Poker, I'll Do Anything, Poker, Playmakers, Poker, The Season, Poker, Dream Job and Poker.

Maybe the ratings are better than showing real sports. Maybe producing shit like that costs a fraction of the price as compared to getting rights to real sports. Maybe I can get sports programming on OLN, Golf Channel, Tennis Channel, the two Fox channels, CSS, etc. But this creeping VH-1-ification of ESPN is not good news. ESPN used to be the place where we could watch sports. If we wanted to watch dramas, we'd watch something else. If we wanted to watch the $100,000 pyramid, we'd watch the Game Show Network. They call themselves the "Worldwide leader in sports", not the "Worldwide leader in stuff sort of related to sports."

And the cherry on the top of the shit sundae that ESPN has become lately is the premiere tomorrow of ESPN Hollywood. Entertainment Tonight with athletes. Cribs, clothes, controversy and shit. This show is, without a doubt, the worst idea ESPN programmers have ever had. Worse than Cold Pizza. Worse than anything with Woody Paige drooling all over it. Worse than Sizemore's wigs in Hustle. Nobody wants to see this shit. If you ask any sportsfan, they'll say the worst thing about sports in modern times is the influence of greed, money, and arrogant celebrity. This show glorifies all the stuff people hate about sports, which really gets to the reason why it's on the air. It is not a show for people who like to watch sports. It is a show for people who want to watch pop culture television. I don't have a problem when E! shows the NASCAR Young Guns True Hollywood Story. I don't mind (aside from the above rant) when MTV Cribs is all NBA players. It's as if ESPN saw VH-1's "Fabulous Life of NBA Ballers" and got protectively sensitive.

There's a grand unifying theory at hand here. Bill Simmons wrote last week about how people who want to become sportswriters should think about how they want to cover the game. I thought about it for a while, and I think my viewpoint is that the games should speak for themselves. I don't like it when the personalities or externalities are bigger than the games themselves. So I don't understand why ESPN would make a show where the personalities and externalities are the focus. And it seems like for the past few years the programming on ESPN has crept toward focus on the personalities (creating their own personalities which unfortunately influence the way games are played) and externalities. And it isn't a good sign. I remember thinking a decade ago about how MTV didn't show videos as much as they used to. Now they don't show them at all. I truly hope ESPN doesn't fall into the same pattern. Show sports. Quit showing bullshit.

Added: I want to clarify that, while I don't like it, I don't think celebrity-driven pop culture bullshit shouldn't be on the air. My bone to pick is with ESPN ignoring what they used to do (and what got them legions of viewers) and instead doing things other networks already do. I don't like the trend on ESPN.