If you like really awkward TV, with awkward silences, jokes that fall flat, tone-deaf interviews and … awkward silences, ESPN’s new “Cold Pizza” is for you.
The two-hour show, which debuted last week, has come to the rescue of all those people who were frustrated by the lack of a morning studio show that centered on sports — you know who you are. Evidently you like sports, but not enough to watch “SportsCenter,” on at the same time. And you like morning shows, but not enough to watch any of the morning shows offerred by CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox and about a dozen other networks on basic cable.
Appearing on the hench network ESPN2 at 7 a.m. Eastern time and repeated at 9 with updated news reports, “Cold Pizza” offers the familiar “Today” mix of bubbly personalities, light banter, lifestyle features and celebrities, only instead of talking about food and weather and TV stars, the hosts talk mostly about sports. And food and weather and TV stars.
It should be obvious from the title that ESPN’s going after the all-important young male demographic here, since young males make up the vast majority of the people in the world who think cold pizza is a cool thing. But the show seems very female to me. Three of the four regular cast members are women, and the whole thing, from the Urban Outfitters-style set to the chirpy mood, has a lot more of the housewifey vibe of “Live With Regis and Kelly” than the dude-ified feel of “The Best Damn Sports Show, Period.”
My first encounter with “Cold Pizza” was in its first week, when I happened upon Aaron Neville singing “Since I Fell for You.” Aaron Neville is magnificent, one of this country’s great singers, and far be it from me to withhold props from a guy who has a tattoo of a dagger on his face, but he’s not my cup of tea, and I suspect he’s not the cup of tea, or the keg of beer, of the all-important young male demographic.
So what gives? ESPN is pretty clearly aiming the show at soccer mom America and hoping the young males will be attracted by the title and retained by Kit Hoover, the co-host. Kit Hoover is an ebullient and talentless alumna of “Road Rules” and a cute little slip of a thing. If enough boys think she’s more adorable than she is annoying, “Cold Pizza” will be a success. Kit will be flashing those big dark eyes at you from the pages of a lad magazine before Christmas, I’m willing to bet.
But it’s asking too much of her considerable pulchritude to overcome her annoyingness, especially so early in the morning. She’s an inept interviewer — a lot of the awkward silences come in between the subject’s answer and her next question, straight from one of those blue index cards TV people always have — and she doesn’t know very much about sports. She also turns her Southern accent on and off for effect, which accentuates her phoniness.
My favorite Kit moment so far, other than whenever she mispronounces the name of a star athlete, was when she asked new Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy and his brother Jeff, the new Houston Rockets coach, “You guys both succeeded Pat Riley. Is this a coincidence?” Fascinating question, Kitty Cat! (That’s what news reader Leslie Maxie, a former Olympic hurdler who has never met a word she can’t stumble over, calls her.) Stan gently corrected Hoover, saying that a guy named Don Nelson came between Riley and his brother in New York.
Of course, Hoover probably wasn’t listening. She never seems to when interviewing. She was talking to TV Guide writer Eric Feil, a regular contributor, when he joked that hiatus was “probably French for ‘we’re going to put the show out of its misery and you’re never going to see it again.’” Her response: “What does it mean when a show goes on hiatus? Is that the kiss of death?” Feil was gracious.
Hoover also isn’t as funny as she thinks she is. Monday she announced that she’d discovered a new beer over the weekend: Miller High Life. On and on she went about it — it comes in clear bottles! — and kept bringing it up throughout the show. She could probably benefit from a studio audience. At least their nervous pity laughter would fill in the silences.
Another unfunny joke is Zach the Production Assistant acting as a “sideline reporter” and talking about what’s gone on and what’s going to go on in the studio. If this were meant as a spoof of the uselessness of sideline reporters on football broadcasts, it might have been tolerable, once. Alas, I think it’s an attempt to be all postmodern and self-conscious. Zach appears at the midway point of the show for a “halftime report,” interviewing Hoover and her co-host as “highlights” from the first hour are shown and they sip from water bottles and dab themselves with towels. In a word: Please shoot me in the head so I don’t ever have to witness this again.
The co-host is a guy named Jay Crawford, who is from that reasonably handsome in an unthreatening way, sunny disposition school of broadcasting that produces our great nation’s weathermen and game show hosts. I like him better than I normally would because his teeth aren’t perfectly straight, but he’s not awful, which is high praise here. He’s a former TV sports guy from Tampa and he knows a little about sports and can put a package together and do a decent interview, except that he’s always talking loud like Guy Smiley. He’s completely interchangeable, though. They could switch him out with John Tesh, the guy who replaced John Tesh, the guy who preceded John Tesh, Zach the Production Assistant or an animatronic monkey, and this show would still hinge on Kit Hoover.
There’s also a fourth pizza person, “national correspondent” Thea Andrews, who also plays a TV reporter on the ESPN drama “Playmakers.” She files packaged reports that are meant to be creative and funny. They’re not. She also does things like reading the list of weekend box office leaders. Like Crawford and news reader Maxie, she’s replaceable by pretty much anyone.
“Cold Pizza” actually does replace the weather person every day. Monday it was some moke from MTV. Tuesday it was the Knicks dancers. The one who did the talking was just as good as Kit Hoover, to give you an idea of how good this show is. Just before her report, Joe Piscopo was a guest, talking about the NBA. Joe Piscopo on the NBA. That should give you an idea how good this show is too.
Twice a week Bill Simmons, the ESPN.com Page 2 “Sports Guy” columnist, sits around a table at a diner in L.A. with some buddies and has a conversation about sports that is so dull, so pointless, it’s bound to be spun off into ESPN’s next new show: “Nasty Greasy Chili Fries.”
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