I went into the premiere of Barstool Van Talk with an open mind, not really knowing what to expect.
After sleeping on it, I’m still not really sure what the hell I watched, though I have to admit it was pretty damn funny at times.
It was also chaotic and somewhat unfocused, though I’m reasonably sure that was intended.
The show started with a brief segment in the Pardon My Take van (named Vanny Woodhead, naturally), and then transitioned to a trip to Bristol, where the guys sat at the old NFL Primetime desk and did their best Chris Berman impressions.
After that, we transitioned into a studio set for some highlights, then back into the van for an interview with Scott Van Pelt, then back into the studio for a closing segment.
If I had to best describe this show to someone who had absolutely no idea what Barstool or Pardon My Take was, it would be this…
It’s like Jay & Dan’s final edition of Fox Sports Live, combined with Men in Blazers and a little pinch of Katie Nolan’s Garbage Time.
I don’t know whether or not that’s a compliment. After all, both Fox Sports Live and Garbage Time were canceled by FS1, and the hosts of those two shows are no longer employed by the network. But no show, aside from PTI, lasts forever.
Van Talk was surprisingly blunt with some of the things they talked about in regards to ESPN, including the cease and desist order they received, their “joy” at receiving a 1 a.m. timeslot, the Berman jokes from the segment in Bristol, cracks about ESPN not airing highlights anymore, and even a “bulging dick” clip during the Van Pelt interview.
What it comes down to with Van Talk isn’t the content of the show itself — it’s the Barstool branding and the visceral reaction that many (including Sam Ponder) have towards the brand. Barstool undoubtedly has a strong, loyal following, but will the potential gains ESPN receives for a half hour a week from this audience be able to overwhelm the (in many cases, justifiable) scorn that others have towards Barstool?
I almost think that Van Talk would be a better fit on another network (Viceland, for example), because it would allow them to take some of the remaining shackles off and not have to worry about corporate blowback from a company in ESPN that has been tripping over its own feet in recent months.
The gain from having Van Talk on ESPN2 at 1 a.m. on Tuesdays for ESPN is minimal. It’s not as if ardent Barstool fans are suddenly going to watch eight more hours a week of ESPN because Pardon My Take has a half hour of airtime once a week. They’re also not going to re-attract Barstool fans that are cord cutters for a half hour of weekly entertainment.
I think there’s a decent, if not eventually good, show here. But airing in such a buried timeslot for 30 minutes a week isn’t a way to turn the premiere into something that succeeds long-term for ESPN, for Barstool, and for Pardon My Take. Making the move to partner with Barstool on a show was going to garner criticism, no matter what happened.
Partnering with Barstool and then going with the absolute lowest level of commitment possible shows that ESPN either had no idea what kind of blowback they would get for the partnership (which means that the network’s corporate overlords are completely ignorant of how polarizing the Barstool brand is) or that they really didn’t care and just wanted to beat their chests about partnering with Barstool before another network could.
This review has gone off the rails a little bit, so let me bring it home — Barstool Van Talk isn’t a bad show. But it’s never going to become a good show airing on Tuesdays at 1 a.m. on ESPN2. It needs more airtime on a network that’s willing to give it more support, and ESPN isn’t that network. If ESPN was willing to open themselves up to criticism for partnering with Barstool, they could have at least tried to get something more tangible out of the partnership rather than potential increased viewership for 30 minutes a week.