Is A Host Allowed To Drool At Indianapolis?

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Since 2005, Brent Musburger has served as host of the ABC/ESPN telecast of the Indianapolis 500. I’ve never quite understood the role of a host for a sporting event. Are they considered above those doing the actual event broadcast, or are they more of an opening act to the main event? Whatever the case, I’ve always thought it was pointless to have additional “talent” on the air for the 500.

For the NBC Sunday Night Football telecasts, Bob Costas is on site in a host role. I used to like Bob Costas. But then he started taking himself too seriously. No one questions his knowledge or passion for football, but lately he has been using his role as host as a means to showcase Bob Costas. He fancies himself as a comedian/political commentator and we are forced to endure his shtick, before he hands the telecast off to Al Michaels; who I consider to be one of the best broadcasters of this era. I suppose Michaels, or any of the on-air talent needs a break – but isn’t that what the New York studio show is for?

There is no studio show for the Indianapolis 500 telecast, so I suppose that’s where the host comes in. The NBCSN telecasts of the IZOD IndyCar Series starts off with IndyCar Central hosted by Kevin Lee, but this is far different than the role that Musburger plays. Kevin Lee knows this sport. The same cannot be said for Mr. Musburger.

It is awkward and embarrassing to hear Brent Musburger bungle and butcher the names of most foreign drivers and many of the Americans. His knowledge of open-wheel racing is minimal, and it shows. They fly him once a year to talk about a sport he knows nothing about and ABC/ESPN thinks he has the star-power to lure in viewers. I’ve heard the argument that seeing Brent Musburger on a telecast tells the viewer that this event is a big deal. I don’t buy it.

Yes, I enjoy hearing Musburger’s trademark “You are looking live…” at the very beginning, but his contribution ends there. I think networks who believe their on-air talent to be stars, are sadly mistaken. I consider myself a pretty big sports fan, yet I’ve never tuned into an event because of who the broadcaster is. I’ve turned off events before, due to who was doing them – but never watched one because “Talking Head X” was doing the broadbast.

Darrell Waltrip comes to mind as one I tend to avoid. I think part of the reason my NASCAR viewing has dropped off is that I cannot bear to listen to the man who invented the word “boogity”. Whenever a sportscaster thinks that viewers are tuning in for them instead of the event – that’s not a good thing.

At one time, Brent Musburger was the face of television sports. He was Mr. Everything at CBS. He was the host of The NFL Today, the studio host for College Football & Basketball, as well as the lead play-by-play announcer for the NBA, College Football and Basketball. He had also been slated to do Major League Baseball broadcasts before he was abruptly fired from CBS on the eve of the NCAA basketball finals in April of 1990.

Some say he was fired because new management at CBS felt that no one person should ever wield as much power as Musburger had in the eighties at CBS. His star had become too big and CBS decided to move in a different direction. He landed at ABC where he focused mostly on College Football and Basketball play-by-play. As time has gone on, his role has increased. With Al Michaels moving to NBC; Musburger, Mike Tirico and Brad Nessler are probably the two most recognizable broadcasting names at ABC/ESPN.

The problem is, Tirico is forty-six and Nessler is fifty-six. Brent Musburger will turn seventy-four on this year’s race day for the 97th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Being a little long in the tooth myself, I’m a strong proponent of older workers. I generally feel that older and more experienced workers can work circles around the younger generation. That applies in television broadcasting, as well – but not in Musburger’s case.

Some broadcasters have grown into their roles well into their advanced years, while others have come across as cavemen. Dick Enberg was as graceful and eloquent as ever when he retired from CBS. One of my all-time favorites, Pat Summerall, translated well even into his eighties – although the last time I heard him didn’t go over so well. Vern Lundquist is now seventy-two. He makes a few mistakes but is so entertaining, it’s easy to forgive. The same applied to the recently retired Bob Jenkins.

The one common denominator that those men all had was that they never considered the broadcast to be about them. They always let the event speak for itself.

Musburger, on the other hand, always came across as thinking the show was about him – from his early days in the mid-seventies on The NFL Today up to the present. Which brings us up to Monday night’s telecast of the BCS Championship game.

Before the game got way out of hand, the camera focused in on the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, Katherine Webb – who also happens to be a former Miss Alabama USA. To describe Musburger’s fawning all over her as awkward, is putting it lightly.

Musburger was practically foaming at the mouth as he advised all young men in Alabama to become QB’s. He didn’t let it go at that, as he lamented that “quarterbacks get all the good looking women”. He continued his on-air ogling with “…what a beautiful woman” and mercifully ended his creepiness with “Wow!” and Whoa!"

First of all, I am not trying to take some moral high ground here. She was, in fact, a very beautiful woman. But to hear a man carry on about a woman more than fifty years younger than him, made most of America squirm in their collective easy chairs. It was almost reminiscent of a scene from a bad Will Farrell movie. Although it made for great fodder on Twitter throughout the game, it demonstrated that perhaps Brent was no longer ready for prime time.

Perhaps the time has come for ABC/ESPN to start scaling Brent’s schedule back to some lesser events. After the current slate of college basketball assignments are behind him, I think removing him as host of the Indianapolis 500 telecast would be a great place to start. Due to his lack of knowledge (or perceived interest) in the event, his presence always detracted from the event instead of adding to it.

ABC/ESPN has needed to revamp its coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 for years. Unlike many, I really have no problem with Scott Goodyear as an analyst. His main problem is that he raises and lowers the bar to whoever he’s paired with. I also have no problem with any of their pit reporters. Jamie Little is excellent and Rick DeBruhl is solid. At the Indianapolis 500, Dr. Jerry Punch is as good as it gets.

Eddie Cheever has been a disappointment at the Indianapolis 500 after his impromptu guest appearance in the booth at Texas many years ago. He comes across as wooden, stiff and not near as opinionated as we know he really is.

But the weak links in the Indianapolis 500 broadcast year in and year out have been Marty Reid and Brent Musburger. You get the feeling from both that neither wants to be there. I think that ABC/ESPN should give them their wish. All indications are that Marty Reid will be back, but hopefully – someone will make the call to pull the plug on Brent Musburger.

If someone must fill the role of host on the Indianapolis 500 telecast, it should be someone who knows the sport like the back of their hand and not have to read from a script to sound halfway knowledgeable. Paul Page comes to mind, but some will claim that he isn’t young enough. I’d also like to draft Bob Jenkins for that role, but I’m not sure that’s possible. Could Jack Arute return to ABC/ESPN for that duty? Probably not, and he’s no spring chicken either.

NBCSN has snapped up all of the available young open-wheel on-air talent. No one else comes to mind at the moment. But in my opinion, having no host at all for Race Day coverage at Indianapolis is preferable to having Brent Musurger showing up and drooling over the thought of Danica Patrick someday returning to the Indianapolis 500.

George Phillips

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20 Responses to “Is A Host Allowed To Drool At Indianapolis?”

  1. The 500 gets treatment like the Olympics. It is about the people more than it is about the engines. Brent makes a fine host in this sense. He tells the story. He leaves the technical part to the pit reporters and the colorman. GP and I have never agreed on TV personalities. I HATED Bob Jenkins’ style. He was so robotic and put me to sleep. I will enjoy Mr. Diffey’s excitment this year. At the same time, I find DW very entertaining in the stock car setting and I never understood why everyone dislikes Marty Reid so much. Go figure…

  2. “Like a bad Will Farrell movie”? That would imply that there are any good ones! Lol

    Seriously, he was very creepy with his on air oogling at the BCS game. The 500 needs and deserves on air talent that not only know the sport, but have some passion for it. That person could then engage with the reporters, ask cogent questions and add interest to the broadcast. I agree that, just because they have a big name doesn’t mean they bring any viewers with them.

  3. In this case the woman was hot and old Musy contained himself very nicely compared to what I heard in the office yesterday.

    Unlike the rivers of drool you people have spit over some very average looking women, with more importantly very limited driving talent, over the last dozen years.

  4. The Lapper Says:

    The BCS Championship game this past Monday was out of hand well into the first quarter. By that time there wasn’t much to really say except the obvious and I thought ‘ol Brent gave some great advice. The good-looking girls go for the quarterbacks. Hell, I was thinking the same thing.

    • Out of twenty-one paragraphs, you’ve chosen to focus on the three that dealt with Monday night’s creepiness and you’ve missed the point. This isn’t about Brent’s taste in women. That’s just a sidebar. This is about how ineffective he is in the role of host on the Indianapolis 500 telecast. – GP

      • Just playing devil’s advocate here: though only three paragraphs dealt with Brent’s hubba-hubba moment with Miss Alabama, this opinion piece you delivered comes on the heels of Brent’s apology. Coming so soon after the incident in the BCS game makes it seem like it was in response to what he did (and maybe it is … or maybe it fueled your opinion, I don’t know). Regardless, if it isn’t about Brent’s taste in women, maybe you shouldn’t have mentioned it?

      • Of the eight words in the headline one of them was Drool, what exactly were you going for?

        • I think it’s obvious that the episode Monday night has Musberger fresh on everyone’s mind. I’m guessing that’s why George has chosen now to write about a subject that I agree with him on. Musberger is a joke when it comes to indy car racing.

          Is it really necessary to dissect a headline word for word in order to figure out what the writer was really going for? For crying out loud. Headlines are written to lure people in. I think that’s what he was going for. Good Lord!

          • So, George’s lure to today’s blog is Musberger’s drooling of a young, pretty, nubile woman who is Miss Alabama, but let’s not talk about that. Frankly, she should be over the top happy about all of the attention this has brought her. I have no doubt that film and TV producers as well as magazines are already in contact with her agent because of the attention from this week’s Musberger comments.

  5. Personally, I find it absolutely shameful that Paul Page is not involved with the telecast in some form or fashion. I fully understand that Mr. Page isn’t younger than springtime anymore, but he DOES know his racing (Hell, he learned at the foot of the master, Sid Collins,) and definitely “gets” Indianapolis. Back before he was the “Voice of the 500″ he was a helicopter traffic reporter for WIBC in Indy, a career move that had near tragic circumstances, as he was pretty seriously injured when the WIBC chopper crashed.

    How few still remember that the 500 used to be a “radio only” event.
    Because of that, most of the old line reporters (Doug Zink, Chuck Marlowe, Jim Shelton, Lou Palmer, Jerry Baker, and Mike Ahern to name just a few,) were able to paint “word pictures” of the 500 that most today just cannot. Sadly, most of the old guard has passed on or retired.

    As to Brent Musberger, nothing he will EVER do as host of the 500 telecast will rival the Paul Page soliloquies that opened the telecast every year voiced over the theme from “Delta Force.”

  6. billytheskink Says:

    Musburger’s role on the 500 broadcast is such an anachronism, a callback to the Wide World of Sports days in which the 500 was hosted by a multi-sport broadcasting personality.
    I suppose the idea has always been to give the 500 some credibility with casual fans and channel-flippers. There is some merit to this thought, but in these days there simply are no multi-sport broadcasters that approach the recognition and credibility once possessed by Jim McKay or even Chris Schenkel. Musburger and Al Michaels are probably the closest, but I just don’t think either are really all that close. Michaels was at one time, but even with his Olympic duties, he’s approaching a decade of being known as just The Sunday Night Football guy to many.

    The “host” job probably should have gone to Paul Page after he was replaced as lead announcer. The role itself is not entirely necessary, but I like it because it helps keep me from getting tired of the race announcers and, as I said earlier, gives the casual fan the idea that the 500 is a big deal. It works well when the host displays knowledge, passion, and the ability to facilitate the interviews and segments that accompany a pre-race show.

    I don’t expect much to change for this year’s 500 broadcast, much as I’d like it to. More than wishing for Musburger to be replaced, though, I wish Gary Gerould’s role in the pits was restored (for all ABC races, preferably, but at least the 500).

  7. Candidates for hosts of INDY 500 telecast……. Jamie Little and Donald Davidson…..

  8. I have always said that I would not hold a woman’s youth against her….

    I think what Brent did was a little over the top but harmless. But I do agree with your point about the broadcasters. I really don’t care about age (unless it affects their work). But I want someone who knows the sport and can give insights into the workings of the race. I think that is part of the reason everyone loved Dan Wheldon’s limited work on Versus. Not only was he a joy to listen to with his enthusiasm, but he knew what he was talking about and provided insights you did not often get from others.

    The thing that always impressed me the most in the 80’s, 90′ and beyond is the excellent job the Indy radio network does. The way they cover the race, switch from one area to another, and know what they are doing and talking about. If we could get a little bit of that on TV, it would be great!

  9. Megan K. Bickel Says:

    Regardless of Monday night, I think the 500 deserves some young blood to draw in viewers and that includes the host. I don’t know who is a good candidate, but either find someone excited about the sport & broadcast, or do away with the host all together. I liked your point that it seems rather a pointless role. More room to mess it up than make it great!

  10. Tim Cronin Says:

    George, I surmise you wouldn’t have written about Musburger on this day had he not complimented – with humor, and encouraged by Herbstreit, I thought – the former Miss Alabama USA on Monday evening. Thus your use of “drool,” and The Lapper’s completely logical reference to those three paragraphs. No need to criticize your readers, especially when they’re right.

    As for the perfect host, Page as a host / racecaller would be splendid. But that’s not going to happen. Nor will a Larry Henry. Best to live with a Musburger, who at least lends a sense of occasion to the non-racing fan for one day a year.

    • Oilpressure Says:

      I don’t think I criticized any readers, and “The Lapper” is a longtime friend – so I can take some personal liberties with him. Sorry if it came off as attacking readers. But as “Nomex” said, I’m a bit perplexed that so many are obsessing over the title or timing of this post. Of course, the comments during the game is what spurred this on. But not because I was offended at his ogling – it just reminded me of how ineffective I think Musburger is as host. Since Brent Musburger has been a hot topic for the last couple of days, I thought (and still think) that it was a very timely topic.

      I’ve always thought that Musburger needed to be replaced as host – if a host is needed. This just further cemented what I already thought.

      I rarely respond to any comments here and twice in one day almost never happens. I try to never attack readers, unless they act uncivilized and/or attack loyal readers. Without readers like yourself, there is no reason to be doing this. – GP

  11. In fairness, Musburger has enjoyed a fine career broadcasting. I do agree he adds nothing to the 500 broadcast, and the incident the other night was shameful. Sadly, the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader’s” top broadcast team, could provide us no better analysis than something I’d expect from a high school locker room.

    I do like the “host” part of the broadcast, but it has to be someone with credibility. List below:

    Mixed feelings on Dr. Jerry. Classy and knowledgeable, though IndyCar needs to differentiate itself from NASCAR.

    I would like Paul Page, but he has no national cache.

    Bob Jenkins is a classy and dignified man, but overrated as a broadcaster, and not a host.

    I don’t think Marty Reid is great, but he’s better than a lot of the people mentioned here. At least, give him credit for how well he handled Vegas 2011.

    Those who remember how blatantly biased and unprofessional Jack Arute was during the CART-IRL war, would find him hosting the 500 laughable.

    Jamie Little adds minimal, if any, unique content to broadcasts.

    Gary Gerould was dynamite in the pits, but host seems odd to me.

    Darrell Waltrip? Tony Hulman would do another 360 in his grave, if “boogity boogity” was uttered at the 500.

    Al Micahels is not a racing guy but a fabulous broadcaster, who never talks above the moment. Sadly, he’s no longer with ABC.

    I’ll make an outside the box suggestion: Jackie Stewart. Pure class, great voice, use to cover the 500, is fabulous on air.

    Brian Carroccio
    The Chrome Horn and AR1

  12. I like Bob Costas and I am not crazy about Brent Musburger as host of the Indy 500, though I understand why he is there. However, I don’t see why you think his remarks about Katherine Webb enter into the discussion. What is wrong with admiring a pretty girl regardless of how old you are? No different than a lot of remarks that have been made on various racing sites about the Izod girl.

  13. I have always thoroughly enjoyed the races on Versus. I think their crew does an outstanding job.

    I know it’s supposed to benefit the series to have the occasional race on ABC, but the difference in the quality of the viewing experience is astounding. The quality of the announcing crew is worse, the commercials are far too numerous, and in general, it’s hard to grasp a feel for the flow of the race.

    My wish would be for the Versus crew to do all the races, but I know that’s not gonna happen.

    By the way, Musberger may have gone over the top during the game, but he certainly does have good taste in women!

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