I always thought the low point for SportsCenter during my lifetime would be the Tim Tebow birthday celebration from this past August. It was a perfect intergalactic collision of awful television. There was anchors, reporters, and analysts wishing Tebow a happy birthday like crazed stalkers, Sage Steele (ironically?) referring to Tebow's b-day as breaking news, a total abandonment of any sort of objectivity about the world around them... and of course, Herm Edwards and Marcellus Wiley wearing party hats and blowing kazoos.
I always thought that would be the moment SportsCenter jumped the shark, for lack of a better idiom. That day would always serve as the prototype for ESPN's zeal for ratings and buzz and celebrity and "what's now" trumping all sense of perspective.
Then Billy Crystal anchored the 6 PM ET SportsCenter on December 19th, 2012.
And I had to rethink my previous stance.
Billy Crystal was in Bristol to host
SportsCenter because it was a dream of his, but more importantly, he had a movie to promote - Parental Guidance. Crystal co-anchored the 6 PM ET SportsCenter with Steve Levy, who happens to have a bit part in the movie. What happened was an hour of celebrity worship as the sports world took a backseat to storytime with Uncle Billy. Seriously. Here's a segment of Billy Crystal swapping Ted Williams stories with Tim Kurkjian.
Woooooooowwww!!!! Ted Williams called Billy Crystal one time!! Like... on the phone!! OMG how cool!!! I wish I was rich and famous and could hang out with THOSE guys!!!
The Bud Light Fan Forum tackled the meatier topics of the day, like Billy Crystal's favorite Yankee of all-time, who would challenge the Yankees next season, and Billy Crystal's advice to Tim Tebow.
Because if you're going to have an episode of
SportsCenter leaping over the shark like Bob Beamon, it better include a movie star's advice to Tim Tebow!
We had our contractually obligated "Shameless Movie $$$$$ Yummy Promotion" segment with Billy Crystal giving "Parental Guidance" to NBA stars.
GET IT?? That's the name of the movie he's in! And he's giving advice to grown men like a father figure with a slightly humorous and ironic twist!!
Don't worry though, there was still time on
SportsCenter to actually address real sports stories... like Billy Crystal's Top 10 (which included, I swear to you, Billy Crystal hitting a home run in high school), a recap of Billy Crystal's entire day at ESPN, and even a segment on Billy's new movie!
(It's at this point I should remind you of ESPN President John Skipper's comments to Sports Business Journal defending the high standards of journalism and commitment to newsgathering at the network.)
Maybe I'm just being a Scrooge McDuck and need to lighten up. It is the holidays after all. Maybe Billy Crystal hosting
SportsCenter wasn't such a bad thing. After all, it's just one SportsCenter episode out of tens of thousands. Besides, there were actually real people (I'm assuming) that were entertained by this edition of SportsCenter...
Lol Billy Crystal hosted SportsCenter tonight #awesome— HD Sanderson (@thereal_HighDef) December 20, 2012
Billy Crystal on sportscenter tonight was amazing. Didn't know he was that funny— Austin (@eazyy_steezyy) December 20, 2012
No, no, the Billy Crystal edition of
SportsCenter was anything but amazing. I know SportsCenter is all about celebrity, so if ESPN wanted to bring Billy Crystal in to do an interview and ask him about Tim Tebow like Liam Neeson (because that went so well), I can't get too upset about that. If he wants to do a highlight because it's on his bucket list, fine, whatever. Billy Crystal can be mildly amusing at times. A guest appearance would be relatively harmless and may even induce a chuckle or two. At most three chuckles.
But taking an entire episode of
SportsCenter to grovel at the feet of a Hollywood celebrity and promote a movie is an entirely different ballgame. This is your flagship news program. This is the show that built your network. Heck, this is the show that is your network. This is like bringing in Carroll O'Connor to sit at the anchor desk with Walter Cronkite for a whim or Brett Favre hanging out at the NBC Nightly News and reminiscing about "being a kid out there" with Chuck Todd.
This isn't a guest spot with Dan Le Batard's dad or an hour in studio with Mike & Mike. This is SportsCenter.
Or at least, it used to be...
Billy Crystal caused a stir last night at the Clippers game during halftime, here's why http://hollywoodandswine.com/billy-crystal-places-fifth-in-billy-crystal-look-alike-contest/
I've said it before, but I'll say it again:
SportsCenter is not news, it is an infomercial. It's a daily recap of what ESPN is selling.
If the HAD to have Billy on, they should have put him on SportsNation. That show is more fluff than substance, so he would be a much better fit there.
I hate that I'm going to do this, but I'm going to defend ESPN just a little.
Yesterday (as well as Tuesday night), there was no hockey, no football, no golf, no auto racing, and a smattering of NBA and college hoops. As a network who is committing to bring you a "sports news show" that is X hours in duration on a daily basis, yesterday was an exceptionally tough day to fill time.
That's where my defense ends, however. My beef with ESPN, is that SportsCenter doesn't do this well enough even when there's PLENTY to talk about. This show was at it's best in the 1980s when it was strictly a highlight and reporting show. No opinion, no singing to Tim Tebow, no rumor, no silliness. It was a succinct and useful hour of TV. Now, when I see SportsCenter in my TV menu, I never bother to turn it on because the chance that I'm going to get meaningful sports highlights or NEWS if I do so is quite slim.
I would love to see them carve-out time dedicated only to news and highlights. Maybe on a night like last night, it's only a half hour...maybe on a Sunday night in September it's 90 minutes. It's not as if the schedule of sporting events is fluid and not understood well in advance. They should break out episodes of Tom Mees and Gayle Gardner wearing bad yellow sports coats, and just do that over again. Clearly given the frequency of and many airings of SportsCenter, they have the available time on one of their 47 networks to do this.
They don't even pretend to be journalists over there anymore. I mean they used to at least go through the motions and fake outrage when someone questioned their level of journalism. Now they just don't care. I was expecting to see Billy throw it to a live report from Mickey Mantle's grave.