Today we present Part II of our interview with Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated. In case you missed Part I yesterday that talked primarily about NCAA Tournament coverage, you can catch it here. In today’s second part, Richard talks to AA about several topics ranging from the young baseball season to the Poynter Institute to which announcer has caught his eye thus far this year.
Q: MLB season is just getting underway. What do you make of ESPN’s shakeup to the Sunday Night booth and will Fox do anything to liven up their coverage, which has seemed stale for years?
A: For those of us tortured for decades by the serial grump Joe Morgan, this year represents the sweet taste of freedom. I’m not sure I love Bobby Valentine or Orel Hershiser but it matters not: Joe Morgan is gone, and life is good again. I’ve long been a huge admirer of Shulman’s and have written that for close to a decade. I appreciate ESPN executives finally catching up with me.
I’m not as down on Fox’s coverage as many sports bloggers seem to be. I get the reason why people don’t like Tim McCarver – they think he’s arrogant, moralizing etc… but I’ve long respected McCarver for speaking his mind, damn the consequences. Fox’s history of poor talent choices on its non-NFL pregame shows would take up a couple of graphs and my fingers are tired.
Q: ESPN is touting a more transparent relationship with fans through the new PR blog and ombudsman. Has their effort done enough thus far?
A: It’s far too early to give a grade on the transparency of the blog but I think those that are expecting ESPN Front Row to offer self-analysis of why the network made certain editorial decisions should look elsewhere. The blog is well done. Great design. Sharply edited. But so far its charter has been to highlight some deserving behind-the-scenes players who don’t get nearly enough credit publicly. I think it will be a huge hit for employees in the same way people love seeing their name in the hometown paper. The addition of Poynter as ESPN’s watchdog gives me hope for the moment. I thought Kelly McBride’s second column was one of the best pieces I’ve read from an ESPN watchdog. As I’ve said for years, if ESPN wanted readers and viewers to take the ombudsmen efforts seriously, there needed to be a mechanism for the ombudsman to react somewhat in real time. McBride did that, and props to her. Will ESPN implement suggestions from Poynter? Only time will tell.
Q: You’ve been very hard on Colin Cowherd, as have we. With his history of inflammatory comments, etc, why does he still have a job?
A: I have mixed feelings on Cowherd. There are not many people who can carry a daily national sports-talk show and he can certainly do that. As I’ve written, I appreciate that he’s been generous with Michele Beadle, and it’s helped her get comfortable on SportsNation. I also hear from plenty of staffers that he’s a decent guy away from the mic.
My major problem with Cowherd is that no national sports-talk figure offers more generalizations on more topics, and too often his generalizations are not factual, and at worst, reckless. His comments on John Wall were reprehensible and that no one at ESPN uttered any kind of objection spoke volumes. Cowherd has a job because his company considers him a valuable commodity. He’s on a ton of affiliates and he produces an entertaining show for many people. I don’t advocate ESPN pulling him at all. I just wish there were someone in-house who was courageous enough to publicly say that the guy is full of bleep when the guy is full of bleep.
Q: Your media awards column ends with broadcasters we should see more of and ones we should see less. Who’s one announcer that has stood out for you so far this year as on the rise, and one who needs to ride off into the sunset?
A: It’s counterintuitive but I think Hubie Brown continues to get better with age. He’s prepared, never talks down to his audience, and has the gravitas of being in the arena. He’s had an excellent year. No one bludgeons a telecast like Joe Theismann. I’ve said it a thousand times before: If you are going to employ Theismann, he must only be in the studio. Viewers simply do not like him as game analyst. But in the words of David Byrne: Same as it ever was.
Q: If you were starting a new sports channel withan unlimited budget and could hire any 5 TV sportspersonalities, who would they be and why?
A: First, I’d hire a great executive producer long before any on-air talent. Get me a creative thinker, a visionary, someone who understands how great television is produced, and then we’ll figure out how to develop on-air talent. I’d also need to know what sport the channel is primarily focused on. That said, I’ll give you a starting five, even though there are hundreds of terrific on-air people. Bob Costas, Dan Shulman, Mary Carillo, Al Michaels and Mike Mayock.
Big thanks to Richard for taking the time to talk with us and answer our questions. Hope you enjoyed our two-part Q&A. You can catch Richard’s writings on SI.com (his latest media column is here) and in the magazine. Also follow Richard on Twitter for great links and insights.