Sports TV Has Mutated Into Something Hideous

The late and loveably irascible journalist, Jack Germond, made this observation. He noted that back in the old days, when print media still dominated, it was not uncommon for a newspaper's Monday morning edition to be a few pages "thinner" than usual. Why? Easy answer: Because the weekend had been more or less uneventful and there wasn't enough genuine news to report. Simple as that.

Of course, given the domination of TV news, Germond's observation sounds like science fiction. TV news has rendered anything resembling that phenomenon impossible; not just highly unlikely but categorically impossible. Those news and faux-news shows to which we have become addicted are not going to "go dark" simply because they have nothing to report.

For one thing, they have already sold millions of dollars of commercial time to sponsors, and there's no way they are going to give back that money. The show must go on, even when, in truth, there's nothing to show. Indeed, our parents' wise advice ("When you have nothing worthwhile to say, it's best to keep your mouth shut.") is not only lost upon the networks, it's anathema to them. It's poison.

So where does that leave us? Answer: Cable TV has changed the entire television landscape. It has reinvented it. Cable TV is now bloated with hundreds of hours a month of creepily energetic political news, political punditry, political discussion, political debate, political speculation, and political conflict.

One could argue that all of this is fine and good--that too much of one thing doesn't automatically and necessarily make it bad. And that argument might be valid if it weren't for the weird part. The weird part is that most of this semi-scripted political back-and-forth is occurring in the absence of genuine politics. The format is there; the "style" is there; the production values are there. It's the substance that's missing.

The unique nature of this medium has altered how we process information. Because we are fed so much "breaking news" even when there is nothing particularly newsworthy about it, we have been forced to redefine our concept of "news." Separating fake news from real news requires us to engage in a form of meta-language. It's like that Zen mind game. "A sleeping man dreams that he's a cat; and while he's a cat, he dreams that he's a man."

Normally, with politics being politics, we could just say, "Who the hell cares?" and move on. But unfortunately, this phenomenon has spilled over from politics into the realm of sports. It's a fact. There are now almost as many sports "talk shows" as there are political talk shows, and these ubiquitous programs have mutated into replicas of the political talk shows that spawned them.

Sports used to be nothing but fun--lightweight and uncomplicated entertainment designed to amuse us. Sports shows used to be all about scores and performances, great moments and great athletes. But the cable networks have reduced sports analysis to a "binary" spectacle. Realizing that conflict and controversy is going to attract viewers, the producers have turned these shows into "either/or" propositions where people argue opposing sides.

Either you admire LeBron James or you consider him a crybaby; either you like Carmelo or you consider him a ball hog; either the New England Patriots are the greatest team in NFL history or they are a bunch of lucky, overrated cheaters. No pun intended, but with cable TV now ruling the roost, sports analysis is a whole new ballgame.

And again, because conflict and controversy will always attract an audience, we're going to see this attitude gradually seep into other venues. Inevitably, the day will come when a cable show in Stockholm, Sweden, will feature a panel of "experts" screaming at each other over the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Yes!