Dick Ebersol Collects On-Air Talent Like Jon Gruden Collects QBs

Eventually the set for the Football Night in America program on NBC will collapse under its own weight. NBC Sports’ head honcho Dick Ebersol’s philosophy towards on-air talent has to be similar to Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden’s theory of quarterback hoarding, because there’s really no other explanation for bringing in Dan Patrick to work with Keith Olbermann on the highlights end of the program this season. This leaves Bob Costas to shoot the shit with Cris Collinsworth, Jerome Bettis, and Peter King, as the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir is reporting.

After live-blogging damn near an entire season of Sunday night games last season for Awful Announcing, it was more than apparent that the booth for the pre-game show was already much too crowded for my liking (and that of many others) — NBC has taken the “too many cooks in the kitchen” approach of every pre-game show in the business and pumped it full of B-12, andro, or whatever else certain baseball players are pumping in with needles as of late.

More than four people on a pre-game show does nothing for the show except make it a stiff, dull affair — with that many people, there is very little opportunity for rapport or improvisation, cross-talk — because everyone has to get their on-air space to justify the contracts sports executives sign them to. CBS wins the NFL pre-game show contest almost by default because of this: not only do they have James Brown hosting, but the analysts are kept to four and they add in Charley Casserly for the front office view of things.

Obviously, what Ebersol hopes to gain from landing Patrick is the same interplay that he had with K.O. at SportsCenter in the 90s — which is some kind of nostalgia trip I’m not completely down with. I’m not saying it’s a bad hire or decision with regard to Patrick, but if you really want to nail that interplay down, take your new highlights pair, and ditch everyone else save Collinsworth and Bettis. (This will never happen, of course; Costas is too much of a face of the Peacock in terms of sports.)

Eventually the sports divisions of networks are going to feel more of the crunch that has hit news divisions, and an executive will stumble upon the idea that it might work to pay fewer people multi-million dollar contracts in pre-game and halftime coverage; not only will it save you money on an already bloated budget (as fees for television major sports will not be dropping any time soon), but it might actually make the program better.

As it stands now, the concept behind studio pre-and-post-game shows is similar to music executives signing any band with a possibility of being labeled “alternative” in the early 90s to a multi-million dollar advance: it reeks of desperation, trying to figure out what sticks in an uncertain market.

Patrick and Olbermann Will Reunite Their Act on NBC [New York Times]

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