Sources inside the Worldwide Leader tell us that the NBA Shootaround team is the latest casualty in the ESPN bloodletting that is being characterized around the Bristol campus as the “End of the Boo-yah Era.”
In a deal that is nearing completion, host John Saunders, along with analysts Greg Anthony, Tim Legler, and Stephen A. Smith are being kicked to the curb. The new team, sources claim, will consist of Dan Patrick, Mike Wilbon, and Mark Jackson, the trio who worked together on ABC last season.
While the new team isn’t cast in concrete yet – i’s must be dotted and t’s must be crossed on Wilbon’s deal – Saunders, Anthony, and Legler will be reassigned to game coverage, sources say. Nobody’s exactly sure what will become of Smith. Suffice to say, NBA viewers won’t be forced to sit through another night of watching steam emit from Legler’s ears as he does battle with Screamin’ A. The plan is for the new team to rival TNT’s idyllic trio of Kenny the Jet, Sir Charles, and Ernie Johnson.
On a larger scale, this change signals yet another example of the end of the Boo-yah Era. We chose the phrase Boo-yah Era (don’t think it’s taken) because it exemplifies the attitude former honcho Mark Shapiro instilled at the network. He fell in love with people shouting on television. The blacker the better. The more bombastic and over the top, the sweeter the paycheck. Cold Pizza was his baby, too. And few at the network expect it to survive.
But slowly, over the last year, the Boo-yah Era has been virtually eliminated by new boss John Skipper. It may have been a subconscious change or an organic extension of Skipper’s personality, but the transformation is undeniable. After the jump, we chronicle a few subtle changes:
* Nu Skool vs. Old School. Remember that embarrassment? It’s gone. The buffoonery of Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, slugging it out on the occasional weekday was awful. It was worse when it ruined our pleasant Sunday mornings. On the whole, Skip’s role at the network has been decreased. He has vanished without a trace from Sportscenter. He’s done at the .com. That disaster of a show, 1st and 10, is teetering on the brink of extinction. Whereas it used to kick off the afternoon screamfests (Jim Rome, ATH, PTI), it long ago fell out of prominence in favor of a show with actual substance, Outside the Lines. At least Skip’s still making in the ballpark of $750,000. (Kind of makes you wonder if Woody Paige was wise to quit his day job at the Denver Post, huh? Hopefully, he’s investing his $1.25 million a year wisely – and that’s probably a low estimate.)
* Quite possibly the most uncomfortable television in ESPN’s storied history were the days of bookish John Clayton being trotted out into the wilderness to do battle with career backup quarterback Sean Salisbury on the atrocious “Four Downs” NFL segment. Under the guise of discussing news, Salisbury would berate Clayton so badly that you almost felt bad for the guy. It was as if Salisbury – a very, very poor NFL quarterback – was taking out years of frustration on Clayton for all the times that sportscasters bashed him. We’re fairly certain the segment still exists in some fashion but it is no longer uncomfortable television where the jock picks on the journalist, and whomever screams loudest, wins. It’s no longer a one-on-one fight; now, it’s a tame fact or fiction segment.
* Scoop Jackson has been spayed and neutered. The guy spent the week writing about tennis. Need we say more? We’ve been giving this ink-stained wretch hell for weeks, but his tipping point may have come in July with this misinformed and silly piece that featured the humdinger: “Then I make the point: “Which means you all have a better chance to make it to the NBA than you do doing what I do for a living.” In early August he had this disastrous chat with readers. Scoop’s been on a short leash ever since. (The results will probably be catastrophic. His core readers – his family and parolees – liked his ghetto shtick and will probably turn away from his watered down product. And he turned off so many readers with his initial racist offerings that they won’t click on his stories, regardless. We’ve been reading; they aren’t missing anything.)
With the Boo-yah Era apparently over at ESPN, two logical questions remain: 1) Ummm, Stu Scott? 2) How does Michael Irvin still have a job?
The one-eyed bandit has supposedly toned down his rhymin’ and stealin’ on Sportscenter, our source says. Instead of quickly switching to reruns of 90210 when we see DJ Stewy on the tube, we’ll be monitoring his delivery closely.
As for why the Worldwide leader has someone with a checkered background of cocaine, chronic, and strippers conducting interviews, our on-campus source says the Playmaker “tests well.” In TV-speak, this means viewers like him. Perhaps it’s because he’s a flashy dresser. Or because the suits view Irvin’s modern-day minstrel act as harmless, Flavor of Love entertainment. As long as Irvin’s just talking about football, kissing TO’s ass, defending lawless athletes and not pulling a Stephen A. and veering into baseball and social issues (things outside his comfort zone), Irvin’s tolerable.