Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.
ESPN's new Sunday morning show, E:60, made its debut, and there aren't enough words to praise just how good it was.
If future weeks can match Sunday's show, then ESPN will have perhaps the best show it has ever produced. That might seem like hyperbole, but it truly was a remarkable show, and it was heartening to witness a commitment to telling compelling stories, especially in the wake of recent massive layoffs at the network.
The hourlong show hosted by two of ESPN's classiest personalities, Bob Ley and Jeremy Schaap, mostly focused on two stories.
The first was a Mother's Day feature by Schaap on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who lost his mother at age 52 to cancer while he was at Mississippi State. Though the story was emotional and inspirational, it didn't ignore Prescott's arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence, a charge that was later dismissed, and the time Prescott was involved in a spring-break street fight. But ultimately the story focused on the special relationship Prescott had with his mom.
The second story might have been the most impactful and chilling feature the network has ever shown.
Nine months in the making, reporter Steve Fainaru delved into how the Syrian national soccer team has been affected by the country's civil unrest. Masterfully produced and directed, the feature was extremely difficult to watch at times. ESPN did not shy away from showing the brutal violence under dictator Bashar al-Assad, including chemical weapons attacks on the Syrian people. That included heartbreaking images of children either dead or suffering because of the attacks.
Caught in the middle of representing the people of Syria and perhaps being a propaganda tool for al-Assad is the national soccer team. Even the team has been divided over the years, with some players refusing to play and others, many believe, tortured and killed for their political beliefs.
It was an incredible piece of journalism.
Ley told Sports Business Daily, "We previewed that story to about 20 people, including (ESPN president John Skipper). When it finished, there was just silence in the room. It was like, 'This is the reason why we're doing this.' These stories will affect people in a profound way."
For all the criticism ESPN gets for self-promotion and occasional arrogance — some of it deserved, some of it not — Sunday's E:60 showed the network at its finest. The show did the profession of journalism proud and set the stage for what hopefully will be a show that can't be missed each Sunday.
Fox Sports 1 is adding another debate show to the sports-talk mix. It's also finally filling its long-open morning slot. The show is called First Things First With Cris Carter and Nick Wright. The show has promise. Wright (below right), a former radio host in Houston, has been interesting and entertaining whenever appearing on Colin Cowherd's show. And Carter (above right), usually said something worth thinking about whenever he appeared on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown. The show will be based in New York and debut Sept. 5, just in time for football season.
The Sports Emmys were handed out last week. NBC's Bob Costas was named best studio host. NBC hockey's Doc Emrick was named best play-by-play voice for the fourth consecutive year. TNT's Charles Barkley was named best studio analyst for his NBA work on TNT. CBS's Bill Raftery, who works college basketball, was named best sports event analyst. The late Craig Sager of TNT's NBA coverage was named best reporter.
ESPN's Pardon The Interruption was named best studio show daily, and ESPN's College GameDay (football) was named best studio show weekly.
Though I have my particular favorites — such as ESPN basketball analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Doris Burke, NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire, golf analysts Dottie Pepper (CBS) and Johnny Miller (NBC), and HBO Boxing's Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman — it's hard to have any gripes with this year's winners.
Most interesting tweet
Fox Sports 1's Katie Nolan (right) put on Twitter last week: "Man. I miss working.''
Nolan has rarely been seen since the end of her FS1 show Garbage Time in February. Rumors are swirling that Fox is trying to find just the right vehicle for her, but her tweet suggests nothing is imminent. It might have been her way to nudge FS1 into finding her something soon. Nolan is an interesting talent, but it's hard to figure out which box (if any) she fits in. Maybe that's why FS1 is dragging its feet. Her next move has to be just right after Garbage Time didn't catch on as hoped.
• Just a few weeks after ESPN's layoffs, Sports Illustrated reportedly laid off five staffers. Among the cuts was outstanding college basketball writer Seth Davis.
• NBA analyst Chauncey Billups got a contract extension with ESPN. Smart move by the World Wide Leader. Billups is topnotch on NBA Countdown.
• NBC had huge television numbers for last weekend's Kentucky Derby. At race time, 16.45 million people were tuned in, the best number since 2010.
• More good news for NBC. The Stanley Cup playoffs averaged 965,000 viewers for the second round, a 7 percent jump from last spring.
• In NFL analyst news, Solomon Wilcots is out at CBS and Jerome Bettis is out at ESPN. Nate Burleson will replace Bart Scott on CBS's NFL Today pregame show.
Three things that popped into my head
1. WDAE-AM 620 afternoon drive host Steve "Big Dog'' Duemig (left) is scheduled to return to the air at 3 p.m. today after being out since early February with a brain tumor.
2. New CBS NFL analyst Tony Romo told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he probably will "stink'' at first in his new gig. If he's refreshingly honest like that, he goes in with a solid foundation for being a good analyst.
3. Congratulations to ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale. At the 12th annual Dickie V Gala to raise money to fight against pediatric cancer Friday in Sarasota, he raised $3.12 million, surpassing what seemed like the too-lofty goal of $3 million. Great guy. Great cause.
tom jones' two cents