The morning after the London Olympics came to a close, NBC Sports Network (né Versus, né Outdoor Life Network) premiered The 'Lights, described by the network as as "a catalyst for our new programming lineup" that "will quickly provide sports fans all of the scores and highlights they crave as they start their day." The twist is that The 'Lights uses an off-screen, unseen anchor and a compressed, 20-minute-long run time that repeats between the hours of 7-9 a.m. Eastern (with updates as necessary).
It's reminiscent of the glory days of CNN's Headline News, and while NBC won't admit it, The 'Lights is clearly taking ESPN's SportsCenter head on in an attempt to carve away some of the pre-commute sports highlight viewers. Certainly the timing could not be better; SportsCenter has reached its nadir when it comes to reporting sports results, what with entire days on ESPN being dedicated to Tim Tebow and the ever-encroaching Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. Viewers turned off by SportsCenter shenanigans might find The 'Lights a quicker and more informative recap of what's actually happening on the playing field.
But the format of the show isn't the only difference. NBC Sports has made it a point to find a new way of presenting sports news visually, at least to U.S. audiences. This may be perceived as being too busy; while ESPN sticks to its Bottom Line and a producer's rundown along the side, The 'Lights borrows heavily from U.K. sports channel Sky Sports News in utilizing a column for context, including (as you can see in the above clip) interview footage. It's more information-dense than anything ESPN does. The business requires a bit of adjustment on the viewer's part. One thing that cuts down on the clutter, though, is the use of natural audio for the highlights (an approach borrowed from MLB Network's Quick Pitch).
Whether The 'Lights takes off depends on a few factors. First, the program needs to expand to hours more suitable for a broad audience. NBC Sports Network is a national feed, meaning the program airs between the hours of 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. on the West Coast. Meanwhile, the rest of the network's morning programming features what amounts to infomercials for hunting products. (It's believed lingering contracts from the network's OLN days are to blame for this; as those contracts expire, NBC should be able to clear out more room for its own programming.) Second, NBC needs to keep reminding people that the network exists. Much of this is NBC's own fault; while some of the best (and live) Olympic programming appeared on NBC Sports Network, it was only sporadically referred to on broadcast NBC (which should have been promoting The 'Lights' premiere ad nauseam).
There is, finally, one glaring problem with The 'Lights: typography, the likes of which Uni Watch's Paul Lukas would call an "apostrophe catastrophe." The punctuation mark necessary for The 'Lights is, indeed, an apostrophe; it represents the omitted "high" part of "highlights." Unfortunately, the program's key visual theme is of a single opening quote mark. It's unfortunate the program got to this point with such an error, and it doesn't appear they're going to fix it anytime soon (again, because it's such a key part of the visual presentation). Is caring about the orientation of a punctuation mark pedantic? Yes, but pedants watch TV, too.