Last week, the Sports Emmys were announced. The usual suspects - Joe Buck, John Madden, Cris Collinsworth - were among the winners. Fine choices, sure, but not necessarily my picks for the best in the business. So when you disagree, you do the only thing you can do. Give out your own awards. With that, I give you "The Joneseys'' - my picks for the best in the sports television business.
The obvious choice is ESPN. Heck, that's all they do 24 hours a day on like 18 channels. But if there is a big event in sports, I want to watch it on Fox. From baseball to the NFL to NASCAR and, of late, to college football, Fox brings the best combination of announcers, camera work, direction and graphics. Ever since this network came up with the Fox Box (you know, the mini-scoreboard in the upper corner of the screen that you hated when it first came out, but now you can't live without) it has always been ahead of the curve in sports coverage.
1. Fox. 2. ESPN. 3. NBC.
Best play-by-play announcer
The cliched pick is always Al Michaels. But know why cliches become cliches? Because they're true. Michaels really is the best play-by-play man in the business, walking the fine line between information, entertainment and working smoothly with his partner. And he does it without ever coming off as "Hey, listen to me because I'm a big deal'' like, say, Joe Buck has a tendency to do occasionally. Don't scream (like CBS's Gus Johnson). Don't give me your "signature'' calls (unless you're Marv Albert saying "Yesss''). Don't think for a second that I'm tuning in specifically to listen to you. I'm watching the game. Tell me the name of the person who just scored.
1. Al Michaels (NBC). 2. Marv Albert (TNT). 3. Jim Lampley (HBO).
Best game analyst
I want two things from an analyst. Teach me something and make me laugh now and then. Bonus points for sounding like you're actually excited to be doing what you're doing and occasionally ripping into someone who deserves it. That sets two above the rest: ESPN and CBS college hoops analyst Bill Raftery is enthusiastic without being hokey. And NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller is refreshingly candid in a sport that mostly has analysts who are too skittish about offending one of their buddies.
1. Bill Raftery (ESPN/CBS). 2. Johnny Miller (NBC). 3. John McEnroe.
Best studio host
Networks spend truckloads of money to bring in the best analysts in sports. So why do the hosts of studio shows insist on trying to be as big as the other stars on the panel? Again, I'm thinking of Fox's Joe Buck (who really is good when he turns it down a notch), Fox baseball's Jeanne Zelasko and ESPN's Chris Berman. You are not the show! Just introduce the topic and let the stars earn their money. The funny thing is, Bob Costas is as intelligent, articulate and as big as anyone he interviews, but never comes off as an arrogant know-it-all. Folks, he just might be the best sports announcer of all time.
1. Bob Costas (HBO/NBC). 2. Ernie Johnson (TNT). 3. Chris Fowler (ESPN).
Best studio analyst
Maybe the most difficult job in television sports. You have to be quick, smart, funny and opinionated without looking like you're making noise just for the sake of making noise. You have to be believable. Basketball analyst Charles Barkley, night in and night out, says the craziest things you've ever heard and yet I absolutely believe he believes everything he says.
1. Charles Barkley (TNT). 2. Brett Hull (NBC). 3. Terry Bradshaw (Fox).
Best pregame show
Far too often, pregame shows have an obvious agenda to pimp their own game coverage and that's not what a pregame show is supposed to do. They are supposed to set up the day's action. Only one show does it well and, I believe, it does it as well as it can be done. ESPN's College GameDay (the football version) not only is the best pregame show on TV, it might be the best sports show on TV. Outside of Law & Order, it might be my favorite show period. It is the perfect pregame show and when television folks refer to "must-see TV,'' this is what they're talking about.
1. ESPN's College GameDay. 2. Fox NFL Sunday. 3. Sunday NFL Countdown (ESPN).
Best sports journalism
This is the golden era of sports journalism on television. HBO and ESPN, far and away, have established themselves as the leaders with no real competitors. You can take any of the three shows I list here and put them in any order and I would have no argument.
1. Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO). 2. Outside the Lines (ESPN). 3. Costas Now (HBO).
Best event coverage
I admit I stopped being a huge boxing fan about 10 years ago. I used to be able to name the champ in every weight class. Now there are simply too many divisions and too many champions to keep track of. Yet every time HBO has a fight card, I can't help but be sucked in. Maybe it's because there are no commercials. Maybe it's the fact that it's uncensored. Maybe it's because I love listening to Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant. But whatever it is, it's a blast to watch.
1. HBO boxing. 2. NHL on NBC. 3. NASCAR on Fox.
Best sports talk show
Can I just say right now that I hate ESPN's Around the Horn? On the surface, it seems like it should be a good show. Four sports writers talking about the day's events. But the whole thing is so staged with reporters memorizing stats and spewing them out like they're reading off a cue card. The whole thing seems scripted and not what it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be an improvised conversation. That's why Pardon the Interruption and the Sports Reporters (both on ESPN) work so well. It really does seem like a bunch of sports fans sitting around at the corner bar talking about sports.
1. Pardon the Interruption (ESPN). 2. Sports Reporters (ESPN). 3. Mike & Mike In the Morning (ESPN2).
Best sports news show
Just like sports investigative shows, this is the strongest sports era ever in sports news shows. It all changed about a decade ago when ESPN realized it didn't have to fill 24 hours a day with game coverage, that shows providing highlights with analysis were what viewers wanted. SportsCenter is in a league of its own, so I won't even consider it for this category. But the following shows are just three of many that take the viewers beyond box scores and a couple of highlights.
1. Baseball Tonight (ESPN). 2. Inside the NFL (HBO). 3. NASCAR Now (ESPN).
Forget sideline reporters. Rarely do they ever provide any decent information. I still don't understand how such a good idea can turn into such a waste of time. Only NBC's idea of putting a second color analyst between the benches at ice level for NHL games provides viewers with what a true sideline reporter should be. So I have to go to the news programs, where there are plenty of worthy candidates. My personal favorite is Kelly Naqi, whose interviews for ESPN (mostly on Outside the Lines) always solicit the best answers. And that's a what a good reporter will do: get information.
1. Kelly Naqi (ESPN). 2. Armen Keteyian (HBO). 3. Mary Carillo (HBO).