My parents watch TBS approximately three to five hours a day. They enjoy the network's programming, which includes reruns of Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, King of Queens and Friends. This starts the annual two to three weeks per year when they find something else to watch.
That seems as good a way as any to point out why the MLB's deal with TBS to televise most of its postseason is a strange one. The network is simply not associated with sports. Three weeks of the MLB Playoffs hasn't done it, the NCAA Tournament (and eventually college basketball's championship game) won't do it. It isn't even the better known sports network within its parent company, as TNT's NBA coverage has long trumped it, in both quality and legitimacy. The NBA is a signature property at TNT all season long, whereas with baseball, it's almost as if they just remembered they have it by the time October shows up.
Let's start this off by saying something nice: TBS appears to have gotten the studio show correct this season. Did active player Mark DeRosa put one person too many on their panel? Probably, but Keith Olbermann as a baseball studio host is something that should've happened years ago. He puts an already interesting cast of analysts (Dirk Hayhurst, Tom Verducci, and the lovable Pedro Martinez) in a position to succeed and make interesting points without either droning on or yelling. The studio show has been a bit of a mashup of people who haven't quite panned out, so to see them immediately get it right upon making the change is quite nice.
They also have a couple of decent voices in the parks. Ron Darling is smart and always very honest in his analysis, though as a Met fan, I do feel as if he's had just a little bit of his power taken away without Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez on SNY. Brian Anderson is a fine play-by-play man on TBS' 'B'-team. Cal Ripken has gotten better as he's gone along as an analyst. I expect good things out of the Don Orsillo/Buck Martinez/Dennis Eckersley team that will debut on the Detroit/Oakland series on Friday night.
However, things just seem to snowball in the wrong direction for TBS. Problems all night with sound on the Tampa Bay/Cleveland game, where I actually had to switch off the high-definition broadcast so I could hear the ball hitting the catcher's glove at the correct time I saw it on the screen. Missing outs during the Pittsburgh/St. Louis game. Barely showing any of the pregame atmosphere in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Dick Stockton sounding like baseball is a bit too fast for him. TBS flat out had a bad couple of days from a technical perspective on Wednesday and Thursday including the mystery of the missing ad behind home plate.
This is, frankly, inexcusable given the amount of October baseball they have the rights to. They get the weekly Sunday afternoon game (though no one watches) to get everything fine tuned for this, and every year something seems to go haywire. From The Steve Harvey Show interrupting Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, to the graphics department forgetting how to spell Cal Ripken's name, to the problems of this year's postseason, the network simply hasn't found a way to get it all right in October.
MLB's partnership with TBS is, more or less, necessitated by ESPN having Monday Night Football. Otherwise, you know The Worldwide Leader would have all (or most) of the postseason. But the inability to program on Monday nights (and, let's face it, Saturdays with college football, too) without moving to ESPN2, and Fox's disinterest in having the LDS round wreak havoc on its primetime schedule is what has forced this arrangement. TBS simply isn't a sports destination, and it doesn't seem like the right destination, given the tone of the network, for baseball.
The next TV contract will show off the disparity even more. Starting in 2014, ESPN will take one of the Wild Cards, and Fox Sports 1 will take half the Division Series. Those networks do a considerably better job on baseball than TBS, and it will show off when they go head-to-head. Even if you don't like some of their personalities, ESPN and Fox both have reputations for putting the game on the air and televising it the right way.
Fox Sports 1, to me, is a huge element of this deal. If the MLB Playoffs not only helps them grow as a network, but continues to drive viewers there (it'll pretty much be the first big-time major sports event for them) MLB may get to a place some years down the line where they give FS1 the entire playoff contract. Or what about an arrangement similar to the NBA? Where FS1 takes the weekends and Mondays, but ESPN gets games the rest of the week?
The truth is that MLB on TBS isn't working. The network is getting good ratings, but what's the point? Baseball fans aren't going to come back for Big Bang Theory reruns, and vice versa. Conan O'Brien's show hasn't exactly been a ratings dynamo despite getting massive promotion during October baseball. It'd almost make more sense to put the postseason on TNT, to make that network a more natural destination for prime sporting events, and give them a month of free reminders that the NBA on TNT is back. Just give my parents their Seinfeld reruns back.