Richard Sandomir of the New York Times has an article this morning discussing the celebrity interviews that are a regular feature of Monday Night's ESPN telecasts.
Sandomir notes that the form itself is nothing new. The legendary MNF crew of the early seventies regularly invited celebrities - like Burt Reynolds promoting "The Longest Yard" in 1974 - into the booth.
"At ABC, the “Monday Night” booth was every bit as star needy as ESPN’s is now. It is fascinating, then, to hear cries that ESPN’s second-quarter celebrity fun house is a ridiculous distraction from the game or blatant cross-promotion of other parts of the Disney programming complex.<> Nothing is new about this — ESPN is deploying the 2006 version."
</>But, notably, Sandomir says, the maestro of those exchanges, the late great Howard Cosell, used to keep it brief and to the point:
"One difference between then and now, based on a compilation of ABC star turns, is that Cosell dispatched his guests quickly, as if they had soiled his carpeting. He didn’t want them to stay for more than a few questions.
“I hope you’ll forgive us for not being able to talk to you,” he said to Hal Linden and Steve Allen. They did not seem to care.
To Shatner, Cosell said: “A fumble. We’ll get back to you later.”
Some of the lengthier interviews on the ESPN version of Monday night:
Ronde Barber - 32 minutes (this strikes me as, at least, somewhat justifiable, since Barber's a player and has more insight about the actual game than certain other people he's sharing the booth with).
Matthew McConaughey - 14 minutes
Jeff Gordon - 11 minutes
Jim Belushi - 7 minutes
Sandomir recounts criticisms others have directed toward ESPN:
"There are some people who see nothing diverting or entertaining about all this, that watching Gordon receive a Belgian waffle maker as a wedding gift (his wife is from Belgium) is piffle, or that hearing Stallone, promoting the release of “Rocky Balboa,” at Kornheiser’s request, bellow, “Yo, Tony, go for it!” in his Rocky voice, is an affront to the memory of Pete Rozelle."
I don't know about an affront to Pete Rozelle's memory. And, perhaps this celebrity stuff is ESPN"s concession to the fact its Monday Night telecasts draw a much larger audience than its usual fare, necessitating programming that would appeal outside its target, hard-core sports demographic.
But, the long interviews clearly detract from the coverage of the game, which is already spotty given the three-man team ESPN's assembled. Maybe there's data showing that the celebrity interviews hold the attention of parts of the audience that would not normally tune in. Nevertheless, if there is one thing I would have expected from ESPN taking over such a high profile sporting event, it's that the network would have focused its attention on maximizing our understanding and enjoyment of the game on the field.
It's a pity that ESPN spends countless hours hyping the game in the 48 hours prior to broadcast only to give it short shrift after kickoff.