I’m a boy, so – I like sports. But more so I like hype. Also in terms of regular TV I like hype and analysis stuff about the stuff. SNL is fine – but I don’t excite over an episode as say the retrospective specials on SNL. I enjoy pre-game and post-game shows, but not just for sports. I liked The Hills after show more than The Hills itself. NFL is the master at this as they have they own film division to produce specials which run on their own network. When football season starts I get six hours of pre-game coverage, and post-game analysis before the games even end.
As this all goes on I have an affinity for sports announcers, who must negotiate through this morass. The toughest gig in the business is ESPN College GameDay. It’s a college football pre-game show but instead of a studio they go to the campus of US college football hot bed. Complete with stereotypical frat boys and co-eds whooping in up in the background. It’s not separated by a window, it’s all outside. Chris Fowler is the handsome host who is literally trying to control chaos. His analyst is ex-coach Lee Corso who spews his tagline (“hold on right there!”, said quickly as if it’s all one word) and gets caught up in the hysterics. Every show, he is putting on the giant mascot head. You don’t have to wonder. It’s going to happen. Lee is an avuncular old man who appears to be so worked up that he is on the brink of a stroke every Saturday morning.
I always liked announcers more than players, probably – no strike that – entirely out of jealousy over my lack of athletic prowess. This was crystallised in Sports Night, the critically acclaimed sitcom from the mid nineties written by Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin’s stuff is lovely until it hits you over the head with its peachiness. It is the equivalent of enjoying a delicious slice of chocolate silk pie from Perkins, and then halfway through your pie is replaced with pickled herring. No! Its ruined. I don’t even want the rest of the pie. Anyhoo, Sports Night was carried by Josh Charles and Peter Krause (playing Dan Rydell and Casey McCall, respectively). Never used like “dyno-mite” or “that’s what she said” as the the shows official catch phrase, but to me “I’m Dan Rydell alongside Casey McCall and you’re watching Sports Night on CSC” was a catch phrase as they would say it every episode. And I’d chant along with them. Their task was to be sharp and witty during sports highlights.
Years after such sitcom hijinks, I was treated to my own, real life sports highlight duo of Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole. Jay graduated from being a fresh-faced local tv breakfast show presenter and sparked chemistry with the cheeky O’Toole on TSN. They would host Sportscentre that would be re-broadcast all night and into the morning, often running 8-10 times in a row. Being stuck in a truck stop one night waiting for a greyhound bus, the endless loop was the only vestige of entertainment. They have recently made it to America and are the faces of the new Fox Sports 1 Network. Since they are doing sports highlights and not, say, a sitcom or movie, they don’t have to have heart. There is no schamltz. No will they or won’t they tension, just pure shtick. On the new show they fire their floor manager Ryan for every episode, jestingly shill Fox products and shows, and literally run around a big set goofing off.
On the other sports channel TSN 2 in Canada and ESPN 2 in the US, is Olbermann starring Keith Olbermann who some of Sports Night is based on. A tip of the cap must be given to Keith as in the early nineties he did invent the glib, reference spouting quick-witted sportscaster. Where you didn’t watch for the sports, you watched for the show. Then he went on to become the preeminent liberal political commentator. I love reading blogs and media reports about him as he is apparently ridiculously thin-skinned and difficult to deal with. He has been fired or had “creative differences” with CNN, MSNBC, Current TV and Fox Sports. Everyone who has dealt with him has admitted he’s brilliant and a Jerky McJerkerson. Having missed his nineties run and only seeing him do politics, I was very excited to see him return to sports. Jay and Dan are loveable goofballs who will never say that they are funny. They are just themselves and it’s entertaining. In watching the Olbermann style, he is haughty. Practically yelling in your face, “I’m Funny! I’m Brilliant!” Being smug is a pre-requisite for being a liberal commentator, as is belligerence for being a conservative one. But smugness does not lend itself to sports. From the old Bob Costas Show, to Tom Snyder, or any presentation without a studio audience, my favourite thing is always what I call the “camera ovation” – when just the crew are laughing, as the sound of roughly seven people laughing is so genuine. Keith gets few, Jay and Dan – many.