Is A Host Allowed To Drool At Indianapolis?
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.