ESPN Hollywood, Box Office Flop

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ESPN Hollywood, Box Office Flop
I just forced myself to sit through an entire episode of ESPN Hollywood, and I’m starting to think that Mark Shapiro jumped ship to avoid the humiliation of witnessing the demise of his once-proud network.  Widely regarded as part-prophet, part-wunderkind for founding ESPN Original Entertainment and shepherding in such hits as Pardon the Interruption and Playmakers, Shapiro managed to escape intact, leaving his empire to decay in his absence.  ESPN Hollywood is that bad.

The show is a failure in both foresight and execution.  Even the name is cringe-inducing for any self-respecting sports fan.  A press release issued by the production company, REZN8, says the program is intended to “appeal to a predominantly male audience interested in tracking how their favorite sports icons live life in the entertainment world.”  What male sports fan is interested in Tom Brady’s GQ photo spread, Shaq’s next movie, or Tony Parker’s fling with Eva Longoria?

Those fluff-filled segments and the Entertainment Tonight tone of the show make it seem like ESPN is really going after the highly-touted, equally elusive “female sports fan.”  Let’s face it, most women don’t watch sports.  They’ve got other priorities.  Those who do watch sports are just like every other (male) sports fan.  That is, they care about sports, period—not the Miami Dolphins’ cheerleaders and their trip to Bosnia.

ESPN Hollywood’s only saving grace is that once in a blue moon, they stumble upon a good segment.  I actually enjoyed seeing Shaun Alexander do a stint as a guest announcer at a Kentucky minor league baseball game.  And their feature on the big shakeup in network NFL coverage was interesting fare that wouldn’t make SportsCenter

But therein lies the problem: Even the best ESPN Hollywood segments only resemble SportsCenter rejects.  Worse, the vapid narration from hosts Mario “Don’t call me Slater” Lopez and Thea Andrews makes you realize just how much these segments suffer without quality SportsCenter personalities.  There was never a market for ESPN Hollywood, and now—surprise—no one wants to watch.  This leads me to wonder what ESPN could have done to take this unnecessary concept and at least make it watchable. 

Let’s start with the name.  Get rid of the “Hollywood” moniker and give it something with a little less gloss, a little more edge.  ESPN Buzz or ESPN Beat sounds a hell of a lot better.  Then ditch the fluff-first concept and give the show some bite.  Produce segments that lampoon the connections between show biz and sports, rather than glorifying them.  Finally, give us some hosts with credibility.  Lopez and Andrews, veterans of The Other Half and Cold Pizza, respectively, don’t make the cut.  How about hiring back Rich Eisen, who has been in exile long enough.  He even has a pop culture pedigree with his appearances on VH1’s I Love the… series. Then, lure smart and sexy former Olympian Summer Sanders from FSN’s Sports List.  Now there’s a duo that would keep things interesting.  

But these days, things are far from interesting on ESPN.  The Disney corporate suits have taken control of what was once a great, irreverent beacon for intelligent sports fans and filled it with the same mindless crap that permeates too much of the television world.  As far as ESPN’s other new entry in the original programming arena is concerned, quite frankly, I don’t even want to go there.

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