Sunday, January 19, 2014

Been a long time

 I ran into an old friend today - a television show.

That's because I woke up much too early by accident - darn nightmares - and couldn't go back to sleep. Rather than toss and turn for another hour, I put on ESPN2 and watched "The Sports Reporters."

It's been a little tough to find the show at times in the last couple of years. "The Sports Reporters" used to be on regularly on ESPN at either 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. But as ESPN has gotten more and more into the pregame show business, meaning the program has expanded exponentially in length, "The Sports Reporters" has been bounced around the family of networks in terms of time slot. Its current landing area is 8:30 a.m., although apparently it is going back to 10:30 a.m. next week. Always tough to find a show when you're not sure when it's on, and tougher to watch it when it is shown before you get up.

Then again, it's not like it was in the good old days, when it was just about my favorite show. The cast certainly has evolved over the years.

For most of the early years of the show's life (it started in 1988), Dick Schaap was the host. He was really good, with a knack for prompting top-notch discussion. Schaap died in 2001 - has it really been that long? - and was replaced by John Saunders. The "new guy" came off pretty well right from the start, and still is a good host.

But the supporting cast is different, and as a result the show feels different. The program used to use some very good sports writers from around the country - mostly from the East. Not only were they obviously thrilled and animated over the chance to be on national television, but they always had something interesting to say. Bob Ryan of Boston, Mike Lupica of New York, Mitch Albom of Detroit, John Feinstein of Washington, and Bill Conlin of Philadelphia were semi-regulars, although some others of note (Tony Kornheiser, Dave Anderson, etc.) popped up as well. In that more innocent time, it was fun to actually see these relatively famous (in my world) writers on TV.

What's more, it seemed like the writers were more than happy to get into issues. There's more to sports than trying to figure out who will win today's game. They were discussions that don't come up much on network television.

In recent years, ESPN has been more anxious to promote some of its own staff members. For example, Jemele Hill and Israel Gutierrez were on with Lupica - you never know when he is on the ESPN payroll in one form or another - for today's show. I have nothing at all against them individually; in fact, they seem to follow sports closely. Granted, it's a difficult day to be interesting. We'd been hearing about Manning and Brady for a week, and at this point we're ready to move on and see the games played.

Still, the level of discussion in the last few years has often been at the level of "First Take," another ESPN2 show broadcast during the week - except quieter. I can't say I noticed anything different today. Can't say I'll be recording the program if I can't watch in real time, which I used to do.

It's a different media landscape these days, and the conversations have changed too. That doesn't mean I can't miss the good old days, does it?

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