Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is Chris Berman the Derek Jeter of Broadcasting?

Chris Berman has been at ESPN since the very beginning. Now running on 34 seasons, Berman has been a fixture on our television sets for a long, long time. For a network that did everything it could to not create stars of its broadcasters, Berman became a star anyway. How that happened and how ESPN fought the star system was discussed often in the great book this writer read while down in Florida. The book, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, features interviews with current and former employees of ESPN and nary a word of negativity came across from any of those interviews about Chris Berman. And yet it has become cool to bash Berman just as much as it seems cool to bash Derek Jeter. Hence the heading of this post.

Some things this writer just doesn't get. When ESPN first came on the air, this viewer thought it was the coolest thing since Matchbox cars. Seriously, there were now highlights of games on television that everyone (with cable) could watch!? Yes! And Chris Berman was the ultimate host of shows like SportCenter, Baseball Tonight and the NFL preview and post game shows. His nicknames constantly caused belly laughs as did his funny sound effects when things went awry. It was obvious that he had never been an athlete and was a regular guy just like us who loved sports. It was terrific television.

Berman, along with other stars at the network like Dan Patrick, Stuart Scott and others brought us in to the sports world in a fun and hip way. Or possibly it was the other way around. Perhaps they echoed our world and our love for sports. A lot of that network's success is due to their content, but most of it was because of their people. And yet, it is currently fashionable to hate them. Is ESPN the Yankees? And if so, is Chris Berman their Derek Jeter? To give you an idea of the vitriol that Berman inspires, here is a sample of some "tweets" on the topic:
Get the picture? Perhaps it all started because of this video. In the video (caution: contains swearing), Berman obviously loses his cool at his coworkers who interrupted his concentration while doing his show. The stress of doing any show on ESPN is another component of the book mentioned earlier in this post. The book explains that the veterans were hard on newer studio workers and that was part of the culture to bring everyone up to a level of professionalism. Surely, Berman wasn't the only one that ever got frustrated by the in-studio crew in the 34 years of doing ESPN broadcasts.

Perhaps the real reason for the hatred hurled Chris Berman's way has to do with the network he works for. Like the Yankees, ESPN made incredible business deals that made them the richest and most powerful cable station ever. As much as we like success stories in this country, once a success has become a mega-success, this country loves to tear them down. ESPN made NASCAR what it is today. ESPN increased the popularity of the NFL and MLB. They became the leaders in showing us what the new world would look like.

But we don't like too much success. It's why the Yankees are hated and it's why it's become cool to bash ESPN and by default, Chris Berman. He is as much the symbol of ESPN as just about anything else. Frankly, this writer is a big Fan of both the network and of Chris Berman. Are they perfect? No. The on-air personalities on ESPN have become bland and don't hold a candle to those on the air fifteen or twenty years ago. Often times, this writer would love Berman to clear his throat as his voice is often strained. But it's clear the number one focus for Berman is to have fun celebrating the thing he loves most: Sports.

So yes, Chris Berman is the Derek Jeter of sports' on-air personalities. The vitriol is unfair. And the ironic thing about the whole thing is that the same people that bash the network and Berman still watch! If it's that painful, stop watching! As for last night's Home Run Derby, the event always lasts too long. Three rounds is one round too many. Berman becomes the focus of the overbearing length of the event. But compared to previous years' installments, Berman was much more restrained and contained than in other years. This writer enjoyed his work on that program.

So yeah, this Fan is a fan of Chris Berman and of ESPN. Are their best years behind them? Perhaps. Are Derek Jeter's best years behind him? Yes. But at 55, this Fan's best years are behind him too. This writer wishes Berman was on ESPN a lot more often than he is now. This Fan wishes he would do a SportCenter a week. This writer makes no apologies for what he likes. And Chris Berman and ESPN are among the "likes."

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