What was the best network for sports in 2012? Who was the best broadcaster? What was the worst show?
Every Monday in the Tampa Bay Times sports section, I offer my "Shooting from the Lip'' — the best and worst over the weekend in televised sports. As 2012 draws to a close, it's time now to look back.
Here is the 2012, year-in-review "Shooting from the Lip.''
ESPN takes a lot of abuse from media critics and fans. Some of it is fair because of their shameless self-promotion. But once you accept that they are in the entertainment business, you become less bothered by some of the things they do. There is certainly no question they cover sports better than anyone.
For a split second, I considered the great year NBC had, especially with superb coverage of the Summer Olympics, but ESPN dominates the sports landscape. No one covers breaking news better and they have their hand in just about everything — MLB, NFL, NBA, college football and basketball, NASCAR, tennis and golf. They really are the World Wide Leader and showed it again in 2012.
A special nod to the MLB Network, by far the best of the "league'' networks.
Best announcing team
It's hard to pick against the Sunday Night Football duo of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who are just about perfect in their broadcasts. But the tandem I'm most consistently entertained by are Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, who call ABC's NBA coverage. No one is better at mixing humor, insight, sarcasm and brutal honesty than Van Gundy.
Best studio analyst
Charles Barkley (NBA on TNT) is great. So is Barkley's fellow analyst, Kenny Smith. So is Tony Dungy (NBC's Football Night in America). Boomer Esiason (CBS's NFL Today) is growing on me more and more and I never thought that would happen. But I'll stick with ESPN College GameDay's Kirk Herbstreit. He seems to have more of a handle on his sport than any analyst and that's not easy when you consider he's talking about more than 100 football teams.
I've become addicted to NFL Network's A Football Life and pretty much everything that HBO and ESPN, with its 30 for 30 series, does is can't-miss television. NBA TV's The Dream Team, about the 1992 U.S. basketball team with Magic and Bird and Jordan, was the most celebrated sports documentary of the year and it was outstanding. But the choice here is 9.79, a doc about the 1988 Seoul Olympic 100-meters final. Ben Johnson won the event, but tested positive for steroids. Filmmaker Daniel Gordon interviewed every runner from the final in this compelling story.
Best daily show
It's continually amazing how much work must go into ESPN's SportsCenter. It really is the most comprehensive show on TV, sports or otherwise. However, the most entertaining show, sports or otherwise, is Pardon the Interruption. It never gets stale because the thoughts of co-hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, as well as their chemistry, never fizzle.
Worst daily show
I've always said that ESPN's Around the Horn was the worst show in the history of television. I now have a show that gives ATH a run for its money: ESPN2's First Take. This is arguing for arguing's sake.
When ESPN's Tom Rinaldi is cued up, reach for some Kleenex because he's going to tell you a tear-jerker. But he doesn't do it in a sappy way. His recent story on the high school kicker with autism was among the best stories of the year. He also offered the best insight on TV when it came to the Penn State scandal because he worked hard, became close enough that Joe Paterno's son, Jay, often spoke at length with him, and he told a fair and balanced story with no details left out.
Best event coverage
Sports coverage gets better and better each year and 2012 offered a slew of impressive event broadcasts. NBC took some heat for using some tape-delay coverage on the London Olympics, but covering an event with those kind of time-zone issues is pretty much impossible.
My other personal favorites include ABC's Saturday night college football broadcasts, Fox's NASCAR coverage, TBS's NBA coverage and NBC's NHL coverage.
But, I'm going to go outside the box and into the ring. HBO's boxing coverage is simply outstanding. Even if you don't know the boxers or follow boxing that closely, the coverage is a master class in how to cover a sport.
Worst event coverage
Some will call me crazy, but I can barely stomach CBS's coverage of the Masters golf tournament. It's so sugary that I have to spend all day Monday getting my teeth cleaned so I don't get any cavities.
Best sideline reporter
Like most of you, I don't have much use for most sideline reporters. There are notable exceptions, however. Doris Burke and Heather Cox (both of ESPN) and Tracy Wolfson (CBS) consistently deliver good information and solid interviews. But, I'm going to count HBO boxing's Harold Lederman as a sideline reporter. Okay, so he's not a true sideline guy. He doesn't interview anyone. In fact, all he does is score the fights unofficially and check in every couple of rounds with his scorecard. But those few seconds are among my favorite moments on television.
Best NFL pregame
CBS's NFL Today was on its way to taking this category until they badly bungled the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide story, waiting almost five minutes from the opening to get into one of the biggest sports stories of the year. Because of that, the vote goes to NBC's Football Night in America, which really benefitted from a much-improved Rodney Harrison. Most everyone else on the show — Tony Dungy, Bob Costas, Dan Patrick, Peter King — is outstanding.
Last week, NBC golf analyst Dottie Pepper stepped down and NBC golf producer Tommy Roy compared it to when Barry Sanders walked away from football. What a perfect analogy. Pepper isn't just a great golf analyst, she is among the best sports analysts on all of television. She will be sorely missed. Sanders never came back. Here's hoping that Pepper does.
Three things I loved about local sports TV in 2012
1. Sun Sports coverage of the Rays and Lightning and it all starts with announcers Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson on the Rays and Rick Peckham and Bobby "The Chief'' Taylor on the Lightning.
2. Paul Kennedy and Todd Kalas. Do you know how lucky we are to have two men this talented hosting our pre- and postgame shows for Lightning, Magic and Rays?
3. Channel 13's Bucs postgame show is must-see for avid Bucs fans.
And finally, our Sports Media Personality of the Year for 2012:
Bill Simmons. The 43-year-old former writer for Jimmy Kimmel already had an impressive resume. He once authored the widely-read "Sports Guy'' column for ESPN.com then became the brains behind ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series while writing a best-selling book about the NBA. Last year, he started Grantland.com, which features some of the best sports essays and columns on the Internet. Then this year, he was named a panelist on ESPN's NBA Countdown show.