I avoided the pregame shows yesterday. This isn't unusual. I never watch pregame shows for the same reason YOU never watch pregame shows. I showed up at my friend's house just as they were getting ready for Alicia Keys to spend eight minutes doing a national anthem/"Fallin'"/Jazz odyssey medley. And that was fine by me. I had avoided JB and Dan and Boomer and Shannon and Coach Cowher (ALWAYS Coach Cowher), and I was happy.
And then the lights went out.
If there was anything good to be had from last night's agonizing 34-minute Super Bowl delay (apart from everyone on Twitter, including me, furiously masturbating out one-liners), it was that it showed the world, in excruciating detail, just how bad networks are at presenting football. It was a naked stretch of time that laid bare just how worthless the majority of studio people and sideline reporters are. Will Leitch was right: Last night's blackout was a historic demonstration of vapidity. There was no information. There was no backup plan. The commercial stretches to fill time (drink Bud Goth!) were ENDLESS; it was as if CBS were terrified of letting its studio crew talk again. Everyone at the party I attended screamed for Charles Barkley to show up.
The best that James Brown and Steve Tasker and Solomon Wilcots (whose Twitter handle is @SolomonsWisdom_, which is so perfectly inaccurate) could do was give you vague pronouncements that the game would start again in 15 minutes. No, 20 minutes. NO WAIT! I SEE A BULB IN THE CEILING FLICKERING! COULD BE ANY MINUTE NOW! I felt as if I were on an airplane that had landed and was delayed for 40 minutes on the tarmac before taxiing to the gate. I've had waiters give me better excuses for long delays.
This blackout should serve as the turning point, the moment in history when a network executive finally puts his foot down and says: "Why are we doing this? Why do we spend gobs and gobs of money on ex-players and ex-coaches who can't fucking talk?" What is the point of Dan Marino? Seriously, WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT? If he were fired tomorrow, would you miss him at all? You probably wouldn't even notice him until he knocked up your niece. A decade ago, The New York Times estimated that Marino makes $2 million a year from his broadcasting duties. That's $2 million—more than 70 times the median annual wage in America—for nothing.
In fact, it's less than nothing. For $2 million a year, you get Dan Marino clumsily attempting to justify the fact that he makes $2 million a year. There is a phony pomposity to virtually all pregame shows, in which the analysts present their empty opinions as scriptural pronouncements. But deep down, they must know that they're eminently replaceable. They must know that they can and should be fired any second because they offer nothing of value. You can see that insecurity play out on pregame shows week after week in the form of strained laughter and guys going into three-point stances on tiny sections of studio FieldTurf. These are all men who must know they're wasting your time, and must therefore inflate themselves on the air in order to hide that fact. Take it from someone who knows: The more that you suspect you're a fraud, the louder you'll talk.
The entire system needs to be blown up and rethought from scratch. Why is the studio crew there? Do they have any responsibility to the viewer apart from filling time? I need a studio host to present highlights and, frankly, that's about all. That's one guy. He probably doesn't even need a desk. I'm not sure I need studio analysts. If I do, I sure as fuck don't need them ALL to be essentially the same human being. Why is a billion-dollar network hosting the most important game of the year relying on Shannon Sharpe for comic relief? That's insanity. And yet, this is common practice. Swap out CBS's crew for Fox's crew and Fox's crew for ESPN's crew and there's no difference. It's all the same show. They all do things the exact same way because ... well because they've always done it that way. And now they can't stop. Look at this photo taken of ESPN's crew from this weekend:
This is what happens when a network throws away its own brain. Ray Lewis is joining this shapeless blob next season. Will that improve anything? NO. Will anything useful that Ray Lewis might say get washed away in a sea of melodramatic self-aggrandizement? YES. Network executives should print this photo out and draw a big fucking red line through it. We've all tolerated this for far too long. The NFL studio show needs to be remade using the following elements:
• A capable host. Someone who can present news and highlights who is not Terry Bradshaw. In a perfect world, Chris Fowler hosts everything.
• A maximum of one analyst, preferably someone who tells you something you didn't already know. Telling me the Ravens know how to handle adversity is not a fresh insight.
• Naturally funny human beings. (Note: Frank Caliendo does not count among this group.)
• People who aren't there just because they used to play football
• Sleazy gambling people
• NERDY BLOG-NERD stat analysts
• Field pieces not involving fake dead girlfriends
• NFL Films highlights
• Something about cooking
• Beer tastings
• Charles Barkley
Frankly the options are limitless. I can't tell you how depressing it is to see networks with millions of dollars and loads of airtime at their disposal shoveling the same shit at you year after year after year. Even when they get it right, they still try to ruin it (Shaq on TNT). It shouldn't be so hard to create a studio show that feels natural and is pleasant to watch. But for whatever reason, network brass seems more interested in serving as a moose lodge for grinning NFL castoffs than they are in serving you, the viewer. There was one person last night who seemed genuinely aware that there was an audience to please, and that was Beyoncé. Maybe she should host the goddamn thing from now on.