ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown exemplifies everything insipid about sports talk shows.
This week, it was two hours of non-stop yakking about games that have yet to be played in a season that is just beginning.
The worldwide leader in hyping football had promoted a “new fast-paced” edition of the show now in its 30th year.
There were announcers sitting and standing — in fivesomes, foursomes and threesomes — a foul-mouthed blonde flashing skin and pearly whites, a man who fulfils fantasies, and a woman who gave face to Tom Brady.
I’d never before watched one of these pre-game drudgeries from start to finish. Here is what I saw and heard.
Chris “Boomer” Berman anchors the Snickers desk, flanked by ex-players Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson, Cris Carter and Mike Ditka.
The shimmering set looks like CNN on election night. Wolf Berman and the best sports team on television.
Berman: “Keyshawn Johnson, good to be with you again, and I know you join me, with everyone else, for those celebrating tonight, happy new year – and happy new year to you.”
Johnson: “You too.”
Berman: “Didn’t get the chuckle I usually get out of that.”
Now Berman is playing Joey Bishop on stage with Sammy Davis on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.
Ditka to Berman: “You’re sweating.”
Berman: “I sweat in an igloo.”
That initiates the chucklefest.
All these shows should be titled: Guys in Suits Laughing For No Apparent Reason.
Berman soon throws to ESPN’s Britt McHenry at the Seahawks-Rams game.
McHenry is best known for her performance opposite a towing company clerk, delivering such memorable lines as: “I’m on television and you’re in a fucking trailer, honey.”
On Sunday morning, McHenry, blonde hair cascading onto a purple dress, bare at the shoulders, on the sideline in St. Louis, reveals the latest from her Deep Throat with the Seahawks: “A team source just told me that Marshawn Lynch wearing Kam Chancellor’s number 31 jersey is no distraction to the team at all.”
She wraps her no-news-is-good-news spot with a starlet’s smile.
The ability to talk and smile at the same time is TV’s contribution to evolution.
Berman next turns to Matthew Berry, who will be “joining us quite a bit on our shows this year.”
“Thank you, Boom, let me say very quickly, an honor and a thrill to be joining you guys.”
Berry is described by ESPN as its “senior fantasy sports analyst.”
Bristol, Connecticut, boasts more analysts than Manhattan and Vienna combined.
Over to Wendi Nix, standing stage left: “I’ve got company today. Jane Rosenberg is with us.
“For those of you who think that name rings a bell – and I bet it does – she’s the courtroom artist who became quite famous after her initial sketch of Tom Brady in his hearing versus the league.”
Who could dispute the enduring fame of courtroom sketch artists.
The spectre of Brady also hovers over a report from Sal Paolantonio, outside a stadium locker room.
“For the first time in 96 years of NFL football, the league now has a strict protocol on the handling and the air pressure of the footballs.”
Roll tape of bulky gym bags being hauled into the zebras’ locker room.
“This is all the result of Deflategate.”
Paolantonio orates his lengthy hit with the solemnity of Judge Sirica ordering Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes.
Since the entire show is an ad for the 13 games this day on other networks, Berman checks in with the announcers for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden.
“Jon, let’s look around the Sunday landscape. What matchups are you excited about today?”
“I like Indianapolis at Buffalo.”
The Bills beat the Colts, demonstrating once again that sports prognosticators are less prescient than economists, meteorologists and 1-900-ASK-EDNA.
Next comes the segment the gambling junkies have been craving. It’s called “inactives,” with Nix, Berry, Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter running down the list of players too crippled to knock heads.
Nix reminds us twice that teams must declare their active roster 90 minutes before kickoff – plenty of time for bookies to adjust a point spread and gamblers to get a bet down.
Berry directs such info to “fantasy owners,” as if Dwayne in Duluth and Jerry Jones are in the same tax bracket.
We get the sad news that a Cleveland cornerback is inactivate after being “involved in a road rage incident.”
Aaron Hernandez won’t be playing today either.
Berry does a followup on players with the best value in cash games with a salary cap.
Whatever the hell this is, it sounds like a slave auction.
Who watches this show?
It’s the key question for advertisers. This Sunday, on TSN, ESPN’s Canadian cousin, there were:
- Sixteen ads for cars, plus the same Napa oil spot six times
- Eight for fast-foot outlets
- Seven for men’s shoes and athletic gear
- Three for smartphones
- Two for eyeglasses
- One for a travel website
- TSN promos linked to a beer company
The Canadian NFL addict is a kid in a Mazda, having Pizza Hut and Coors Light for breakfast, peering through Crizal lenses at his Samsung and fantasizing about booking a flight to Vegas, while en route to get an oil change.