In Memory of the Old SportsCenter

I’ve been doing this stuff on Photoshop as of late

a Photoshop image of a reversed engineered graphic package of SportsCenter from the 1990s retrofitted for HD if they ever went back to their roots
Coming up next on SportsCenter: The Bruins got struck by Lightning in the Gahden
(Notice sexy graphics for the time meeting with gentle, amusing, one liner voice overs of context of hockey, if they kept with this format.)
This is a recreation of the 1 minute intro to the show at the time from 1994 to 1999 designed by me.

Once upon a time in Bristol, Connecticut from the studios of the once known Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, a 6 and 11PM news program called SportsCenter used to air the pre game stories, and a post game highlights on the respective time slots. In the beginning; the show was very stale because in the 1980s cable TV was not a profit making business. Like the Internet and dot-coms, they were loosing or hemorrhaging cash. 

At some point ESPN had the current ownership of 80% of ABC and 20% of Hearst with CapitalCities/ABC controlling the company. By this point money helped stimulate this program that was pretty dry in comparison. In the early 1990s the program got into a pretty solid format where it contained higher energy, but it actually required people to make the show so magical that it was for just more than a decade. Disney really believes that their magic in their fictional films could be applied to sports news today. That’s the disconnect between Bristol and Burbank.

SportsCenter was basically a show written by sports journalists or people with some TV background but with TV, you need pictures, and some personality. The show could go along with that when it’s well blended. In order to do that; the talent required some cash to go along with producers and other assistance to help get the video for the replay, and some writers to help out the anchor.

The show’s format was basically in the control of the anchor, and anchor helped facilitate what they saw to make it entertaining and stimulating, without cutting the intelligence of the viewer. The viewer wanted context, but some video and some catchy tunes to help along with consuming the content helped. I mean really, the viewer should know what is hockey game, they just want to find out who won, and what was the strangest play to hear whatever commentary would come out of the anchor and the banter that would follow. This era of SportsCenter did just that. And very well.

The show’s format? Well the intro for “the big show” would start off in this sequence:

  • Show starts off a cross fade from the other show (confirming that humans were in master control and felt creative) to fade to
  • A five second open to SportsCenter of some snappy broadcast paint graphics
  • A one minute intro featuring various highlights and blooper reels not related to any games but got caught by the event camera operators.
  • The voice overs of that same intro would be crafty with their wording to make the show interesting to watch.
  • Then another stinger graphic would appear for 2 seconds featuring this…
a 1996 screengrab of the opening shot of SportsCenter
Just to prove you a kickass show does not require the need of multi million dollar sets or graphics engines with virtual reality to grab viewers attentions. A small studio worked for SportsCenter just fine for the 1990s

Each anchor had a different personality and approach, which the diversity was another required element to the program. From Dan Patrick, to Keith Obberman (Mister I’ll be here for a couple of years because I can’t stand the two hour commute from Midtown to Bristol), Stuart Scott, from not-so-real-at-Jack Edwards, Suzy-what’s-her name (aka Joe Namath’s girlfriend) to Chris Myers; Rich Eisen to Linda Cohn. Oh and Charley Steiner helped with his laughter as well. Each of those people saw the games nightly very differently, but it was them that helped the pace and tone and style to each airing of the program. SportsCenter or SC was not a theme about SC, it was whatever sports on that particular night and whatever particular action dictated the format. Stories ranged from a star college basketball player falling to his death on the court, to a victorious win in a playoff.

The hiring of Stuart Scott (i.e. Mister Boo-Yeah!) was controversial because of his animated style. In fact I’ll be honest, as I got into sports in my later teens, he was the main anchor at that point; if anything he was the last of the original groups from the 1990s that kept the program’s pace in the control of the talent, and the talent had the responsibility (err I mean freedom) to write whatever they felt that they were observing only because they knew what they were talking about. That very same style and personality met the criteria for being on SportsCenter in the first place. He was a genuine guy who meant well to his profession.

The program’s successful format would not last for much longer into the new Millennium. ESPN instituted the Bottom Line, which eliminated the need for the talent to read scores, and replaced the sports flash graphics displayed at :28 and :58 after the hour that would page down scores, and other upcoming games. Sports headlines was not introduced after the Bottom Line, which further devalued the need for anchors on SC to provide filler content in case of a slow night.

A screengrab of 2001 in a larger studio for SportsCenter
SC starts to wobble, larger set, larger egos on the management?

Disney bought CapCities/ABC in 1995, but fortunately the Mouse did not get their paws into the operations of ESPN for a least a few more years. During it’s history, SC aired in a very small studio, that suddenly doubled circa 2001, and the set changed again with bigger digs several years later. The program evolved into a “wheel” or “block program” similar to CNBC, FNC, and The Weather Channel used to do. “Wheel” shows resemble the “all news radio” format, where a “wheel” resembled a clock, and various news or features would appear at the respected time every hour. By 2009, the program was running live from 9:00 to 3:00 weekdays on ESPN. In fact this format was very 1990s, and the only other network that did a “newswheel” show as CNN’s Newsroom. This is not including other appearances on ESPN 2 or the complete programming remodeling on ESPNEWS where basically “SportsCenter” (this time in quotation marks) was the only program for a while. The program was devalued, while Disney was doubling down on the brand

The Financial Crisis of 2008 was looming and glooming and Disney felt they need to stretch every dollar and milk every nickel and dime and funnel it from Bristol to Burbank, to fund whatever Disney felt like funding. However a remote Mouse House and a Magic Kingdom was growing in Bristol, and by the mid 2010s, ESPN was touting one of the largest 4K studios for just SC and well who the hell was really watching it? Most of the good guys and gals were gone, or some stopped coming down for breakfast like Stuart Scott.

I for one, think that the format in the 1990s could not be exactly replicated, just given how the attention spans are today. However, if the context, and the content and the theme of the program was just on the actual sport event, and the action thereof, perhaps SportsCenter would have decent ratings if they left it as a program and not some “brand” for a “sports like ‘news’cast” that really is today someone reading off the ‘prompter and someone else writing their rip-and-read wire story, passing it as “original” storytelling.

To use a buzzword, SC was the original “curator” of same day sports commentary and perspective. It’s gone away thanks to corporate stupidity, and insiting the viewer needs to have a studio that is so big, with so many eye candy material, and a bunch of 4K studio cameras and a bunch of VizRT VR graphics engines because we need to be explained what it’s like to be a baseball player, which distracts the time for funny one liners and witty commentary that could be on the air instead.

As ESPN is turning 40 next year, it’s really ironic that only less than half of the network’s history had the best content, and while technology and snazzy graphics help the story, it was people who were interested in the actual sports, write thoughtful copies and deliver it with their own style that helped during the dry b-rolls of highlight reels.

In this story, it was context not content that made SportsCenter king in the 1990s cable TV world.

I thought differences was what made the world go round? Or is Stephen A. Smith the “difference”?

Excuse me while I go back to YouTube to relieve the pre-Disney era of ESPN.