The mix of sports and late night programming is the white whale of television. Seemingly every sports network and network executive chases after it to try to be "cool" and on the "cutting edge" and reach a "younger demo." This amalgamation of two successful, yet separate fields of entertainment – like the search for Moby Dick – has been an obsessive, yet ultimately hopeless quest. The original vision of ESPN2 tried and failed. (That's when Keith Olbermann launched the network's "hip" Sportsnight with the infamous "welcome to the end of my career" quote.) Joe Buck Live tried and failed. And now, ESPNU will try… and from the looks of the absurdity on tap, won't fair any better.
ESPNU announced a new show, Unite, that will debut on August 27th at midnight with the triumphant proclamation – "ESPN will officially make its foray into the late-night television circuit." Oh, boy. Unite looks like it's going to combine some elements of SportsNation, The Best Damn Sports Show, Period, Sports Soup, and George Lopez Tonight. And I swear to you, the ESPN press release highlights three yet-to-be-named hosts that will "push the envelope." Dear Lord in heaven…
“The way people consume entertainment has shifted dramatically, and continues to evolve by the day. There is a unique opportunity to provide sports news and humor through new avenues,” said Deskalo. “Some things on UNITE you will recognize as late-night entertainment staples – a couch, guests and, of course, an in-studio musical act – will all be part of the show, but not necessarily in the way you’ve seen it done before.”
Live from the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn., the show’s three hosts will push the envelope Monday – Friday with an often irreverent look at social media and video-driven sports of the day. Expect nightly guests, but not always on the couch. The show will use the latest technologies to connect with the world outside the studio walls, incorporating many guests and sports fans via Skype with a 103” monitor as a set centerpiece."
I love the promises of entertainment staples that WON'T BE LIKE ANYTHING YOU'VE SEEN BEFORE BECAUSE WE'RE PUSHING THE ENVELOPE!!!
As if that wasn't enough, wait there's more! Since it is airing on ESPNU, Unite will feature contributions from over 35 journalism departments around the country featuring photos, videos, and tweets each night as "sports and pop culture news will be discussed through the lens of social media."
I appreciate the effort here by ESPN to be creative, I really do, but this concept has simply failed time and time again. The only two words that come to mind to describe… whatever this is… are "dumpster" and "fire." You can't force irreverency and pushing of the envelope and being trendy just for the sake of being irreverent and pushing the envelope and being trendy. The best sports television is always something that happens organically, like PTI or Inside the NBA, or well, the sports themselves.
When boardroom executives get 13 focus groups together to tell them what's "cool" and "viral" and "trending" you end up with a nightmarish show that might as well feature dancing bears, people swallowing burning swords, hot dog eating contests, and flash mobs Tebowing.
Oh well, it'll still be better than First Take.