Like CNN’s Headline News, ESPN’s SportsCenter has been relegated to the cable network show of choice for the business traveler.
Viewing a snippet of SportsCenter is acceptable only in one of the following three scenarios:
1) You’re stuck in a domestic terminal when your phone is at 10 percent battery and already on airport mode. There’s an hour delay because the connector is delayed from Dulles and you’ve already finished your Rolling Stone and don’t want to go back to the news stand on the off-chance you’re tempted to buy a Barely Legal from the top shelf and a shot glass for your roommate.
2) You’re at an empty lobby hotel bar close to closing time suffering through post-game analysis of the the Pistons’ 83-77 loss to the Magic as you wait for the bartender to finish hooking up with the server girl in the janitor’s closet in hopes of getting one more Stella pour before he cashes you out.
3) You wake up with it still on and a blazing hot hungover at quarter to noon sleeping sideways on a sweaty floral comforter of a La Quinta Inn queen in Palmdale realizing you completely spaced the groomsmen brunch/golf scramble.
And that’s it.
The sad truth for the network that gave us Cold Pizza, Bonds on Bonds and Bill Walton’s Long Strange Trip is there aren’t enough Hampton Inn manager’s happy hours or Sky Miles Plus lounges to keep the backlit neon circa 1998 set glowing in Bermantown.
The downturn has been as dramatic as it is dismal: Thus far in 2013, ESPN has been down 32 percent in primetime and 20 percent in total average viewership year over year from 2012 and SportsCenter’s decline was a deciding factor.
This year, the early edition of SportsCenter — ie, the one where you have no chance of seeing any West Coast action on the reel, and the grand narrative of ACC basketball is covered better than the ’82 Corvette in your neighbor’s driveway — has averaged 650,000 viewers through August, an 11 percent decline from 2012.
The prime time/11 p.m. EST broadcast of SportsCenter, the one that leads with the one of Kobe’s sad-injury tweets from the bench, is an even more severe case, down to 855k viewers through August, an almost 22 percent fall from last year.
Daytime TV editions of the show are only off 10 percent from 2012, perhaps because its a strong draw for the unemployed and the only alternative to filling out that EDD form or scraping enough change to grab a bite at Jimmy John’s with the possibility of summoning the courage to submit an assistant manager application on the way out.
Perhaps it’s time to bring in Bruce Vilanch to punch up the dried-out wit and replace with pun-inspired t-shirts the sharkskin suits of Scott Van Pelt, John Buccigross, Robert Flores and Steve Levy. Or maybe it’s time to bring in Deborah Norville as host and snuff the show out altogether so Arsenio can have a shot.
In any event, based on a straw poll of three guys I work with (two of them in my fantasy league), here are five strong cable alternatives currently chipping away at SportsCenter’s share in their non-Neilsen households:
• Golden Girls triple-shot on LOGO TV: For some reason the episode where Dorothy is dating an ex Mob accountant/informant airs at least once a night; there’s also the ground-breaking Blanche’s daughter gets a baby from the sperm bank (20 years ahead of its time on network) half hour that gets in the rotation weekly. Drink every time there’s robes, coffee and cheesecake in the kitchen.
• OWN’s ‘Where are they Now’ featuring Oprah Winfrey interviewing people like Jenna Jameson, Debbie Matenopoulos and Sully Sullenberger who don’t quite get that the fact they’re on a Where Are They Now show implicitly means people haven’t exactly been keeping tabs on their whereabouts. (Hint: when you’re writing a biography, but it’s a cookbook, that’s when people have forgotten about you.
• HGTV’s House Hunters: I’ve yet to talk to a dude this year who says he doesn’t prefer this show over watching LeBron doing that chalk thing …again. Pretty much there are about 400 episodes of this in the HGTV rotation and every one is the same with varying degrees of incredible: Crabby young couple on the verge of their first divorce decides digging half-a-million dollars in debt for the prospect of granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and a great room that would be wonderful for “when we have company” (hint: nobody wants to come visit you) is an incredible idea. The realtor leading the charge simply is seething in his or her JC Penny slacks and just hoping the cameo pays off because no single commission on a $335k home is worth dealing with this woman and her Perfect Home Binder. Watch for whenever the guy gets his way, you can pretty much start the separation agreement paperwork along with the escrow docs.
• Modern Family re-runs on USA. Just a little mortality check in because you still think of Modern Family as a new show when, in fact, your first exposure to Sofia Vergara’s twin talents (physical comedy and incredible timing) was in the fall of 2009, back when Julie Bowen had just finished growing her hair out from Happy Gilmore and Ed O’Neill was still a shoe salesman living next door to Ted McGinley. Yes, it’s been almost five years …but at least you no longer feel as bad when you look at Sarah Hyland (now 23) that way.
• Chelsea Lately on E!: If only to re-affirm the sheer number of single women out there waiting for you by sitting on their couch in their old Juicy sweats slurping down Yellow Tail Shiraz with a straw and debating whether eating Skinny Cow ice cream actually helps them lose weight like the girl from HR said. This same girl, after watching her 1,000th Chelsea panel puke out the highlight reel from that day’s Perez in between Match or Zoosk or eHarmony ads, decides it’s finally time to pick up the computer and see what’s out there. Sadly, the answer is: your sorry non-SportsCenter-watching-ass regrettably drinking Shock Top because it was on markdown. That’s what’s out there.
…So there it is to the bosses in Bristol: If you can somehow find a way to incorporate Betty White, giant-but-seemingly accessible sitcom breasts, a nagging wife and a closted-husband bickering over backsplashes and a segment on bloated and blob-tatted former porn stars who complain because they have gotten more DUIs than dates in the last calendar year, you may have found your recipe for success.
Otherwise, see you at the bottom of the ratings pile spooning RuPaul Drag Race and Guy’s Big Bite.