ESPN's new six-week reality series, "Dream Job," which debuted live Sunday night, seeks to prove that any idiot can host shows like "SportsCenter." We knew that already, but it's apparently important to the network to keep harping on it.
"Dream Job," in which 12 broadcast amateurs schmooze with host Stuart Scott for six weeks and compete with each other for the chance to join him as an on-air irritant, is the latest move in ESPN's campaign to downplay the on-air talent. It's far less entertaining than the previous one, which was to respond to annoying "Around the Horn" host Max Kellerman's reported demand for an $850,000 salary by replacing him with Tony Reali, "Stat Boy" on "Pardon the Interruption." They'd have replaced him with a janitor, but then who'd take out the trash?
"You are interchangeable and replaceable," ESPN is saying to the talent. "Step out of line and you can be replaced by the intern guy, or his cousin, or" -- grabbing the first passing pedestrian -- "look, here's a guy who sells auto parts in Philly and likes to yell."
And just in case Reali starts thinking his boyish good looks are somehow part of any appeal "Around the Horn" might have, the Web site refers to the show being "currently moderated by ESPN's Tony Reali." Currently as in "until he asks for a wardrobe budget."
There really is a screaming auto parts salesman from Philly who's a finalist on "Dream Job." his name is Michael Quigley -- Scott likes to call him "Quigs" -- and he was about the worst of the six who took a turn narrating a highlight real Sunday night. That's saying something. The other half dozen will get their turn, without benefit of your humble servant watching, next week.
Each contestant's effort was rated by the four judges: Tony Kornheiser of "Pardon the Interruption," Kit Hoover of "Cold Pizza," Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington and Al Jaffe, an ESPN suit who hires and fires talent. Their assessments of the performances were the funniest things on the show, though they weren't intended to be.
After University of Missouri student Mike Hall led off, for example, Hoover complimented him on his wit, which she called "very dry and subtle." Here are some examples: He called a right-handed pitcher a "northpaw," then said "Jermaine Dye is dyin' to get one out of here," and "Manny Ramirez hits it deep to center and Terrence Long lives up to his last name -- look at those arms," as Long makes a catch at the wall. Subtle! Did you catch how he played off their last names? Dye is dyin'!
It's comedy of the highest order to have an on-air performance judged by Hoover, who as an on-air performer is -- how best to say this? Ah, I know -- lousy. Hey Mike Hall of Mizzou, Kit Hoover thinks you're pretty good. Rethink everything, kid!
As the show progressed Sunday it became clear that all the judges were doing was counting clichés. The more spouted, the better the rating. A lawyer was praised for saying "San Francisco treat" when talking about Barry Bonds. Every judge mentioned the good writing of a Brown student, one of two female finalists, who peppered Big Ten football highlights with such original phrases as "There's no love lost between U of M and Ohio State" and "All eyes are on Ann Arbor next weekend."
That led my mind to wander, which it was eager to do, to my earliest newspapering days, when a veteran desk hand named Dave Reznek used to love to tell the story of a track and field writer so wrapped up in his sport that as Hitler's troops massed on the Polish border in the late summer of 1939 he began a piece about an upcoming meet, "The eyes of the world will be on Modesto this weekend." Ha. Modesto. Eyes of the world. Good times.
Anyway the fact that Jaffe, the V.P. of moving lips at ESPN, has apparently never heard a cliché he doesn't like means it's only a matter of time before Jeanne Zelasko ankles Fox for a primo ESPN gig.
All six contestants Sunday were pretty rough reading off the Teleprompter, but that sort of thing comes with practice. To varying degrees they've all mastered the "never mind the news, this is all about me!" attitude that makes "SportsCenter" so unwatchable.
Even though it's just trying to hold salaries down, ESPN is right to signal its news readers that they can be replaced by any bozo off the street. Just as sports fans don't watch games because of who's announcing, they tune in "SportsCenter" and its ilk for the scores, highlights and news, not for the personalities of the talking heads.
So it's a shame these bozos are all trying to get on the air by mimicking the asinine barking of Scott and his fellows in the current crop. It would be cool if one of the contestants' rap went something like, "You didn't tune in to hear me be cute. You want to know what happened in the Kings-Mavericks game so let's get to it." Of course, that approach might not make for a very good reality show.
Then again, neither does this approach.
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