September 12, 2006

Please Pay Attention to Tony Kornheiser

Overheard during ESPN's Monday Night Football broadcast of the Vikings-Redskins game:

ESPN analyst Joe Thiesmann: "The Redskins were unbelievable a year ago. Four percent of all the passes thrown they deflected."

After Theismann rambled a little bit more, and Mike Tirico added his own comment about deflected passes, Tony Kornheiser said sarcastically:

"Course if that was very important -- deflecting passes -- you'd go out and sign a couple of 7-foot-5 inch guys, stick 'em in a uniform, say, 'stand straight up and bat it away.'"

To which Theismann responded in a patient but slightly irritated tone, "The problem is guys that big can't move with the agility of these defensive linemen at 6-3, 6-4, some of 'em 6-5."

And at this point, Kornheiser could hold back no longer: "Well you could hire a giraffe, put him in a uniform and see if the QB could get it over his head," he said.

The moment Kornheiser finished his line, Theismann cut right in and said, "On a down and distance like this, the Redskins cannot commit a holding penalty and give up a cheap first down."

End of conversation. The Redskins snapped the ball and Mike Tirico picked up the play-by-play.

Not sure how well it translates to print, but this was just a taaaaaad bit awkward to listen to.

Basically, you had Theismann acting like the overly-prepared student who raises his hand at every opportunity, while Kornheiser was the kid in the back row chewing on a toothpick, relentlessly clowning on the loser who had spent way too much time preparing for class (Theismann). And the teacher (Tirico) completely ignored the whole thing, as though it had never happened, even though he clearly knew what had transpired and simply had no idea how to react.

Admittedly, it was fairly entertaining theater. But under closer inspection, something was off.

After much consideration of the dynamic, the problem seems to be that Theismann and Tirico have no idea how to react to Kornheiser. While Kornheiser's schtick is great on PTI, when he's in the announcer's booth, without the proper people to butt heads with, he becomes some kind of strange sideshow.

For instance, when he was clearly trying to bait Theismann into getting pissed off with the preposterous "giraffe" comment, Theismann didn't take a full swing back. He took the high road and moved on. And Tirico, instead of putting some funny closing comment on the slightly awkward exchange, did the exact same thing: He ignored it.

At another point in the night, Kornheiser made a comment about Santana Moss being on his fantasy team, to which Tirico responded something along the lines of, "Are you going to be doing this all year?" And he actually sounded legitimately annoyed, if not completely disinterested.

Tony Kornheiser should be the centerpiece of that broadcast team, but it won't work if his partners are going to dismiss him altogether. They can't be so singularly obsessed with making sure every play is documented and analyzed that they drown out Kornheiser's entertainment value.

The ownus to make this work is on Mike Tirico. Clearly, Theismann isn't close to biting on Tony's efforts to get him pissed off. So Tirico at the very least has to play the role of moderator. And when Tony makes a stupid, thoughtless comment (which he is inevitably going to do), Tirico's got to give it some attention instead of completely dismissing it, or else Kornheiser is basically going to be sitting in the booth yelling for attention like some petulant kid. And before we know it, he'll be
Dennis Miller reincarnated -- the annoying wise guy who won't keep his mouth shut, when in reality, with more help from his team, he could and should be the star of the entire production.


Blogger jimmyrad said...

Solid post. I agree, very awkward chemistry last night. I think it will take them a couple weeks to open up to Tony K. However, have they been unaware for the past 6 monthes that he was going to be in the booth? How about taking a couple afternoons over the summer and trying to iron out the awkwardness prior to going live on the air. If last night is an indication, all 3 are going to annoy me more than they did last year, (and I actually like all 3, no matter how annoying Theisman can sometimes be.)

5:11 PM, September 12, 2006  
Anonymous Hank said...

The problem might be in the difference between Sunday night and Monday night. Monday Night Football has always been an event bigger than the actual game, a celebration of football only a few levels removed from the Super Bowl. You could put a comedian in the booth, and people would still watch.

Sunday night, though, at least the last few years in ESPN's hands, was always presented to the football purist. The analysis was intense, the research and preparation was over the top, and you like it or not, you usually learned something new.

So now we've got Sunday night's valedictorian (to continue your analogy) locking horns with another Monday night sideshow. (I love Kornheiser, by the way.) I'm sure that on some level Theisman is offended that he's been asked to share the booth with Kornheiser, and it might get worse before it gets better.

2:10 AM, September 14, 2006  

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