The Jokes Turn Back on Joe Buck Live

How many times has someone sent you an online video that left you wondering, "Is this real?" While the videos that tend to elicit these sort of responses are more zany than newsworthy, you should apply that same skepticism and scrutiny to other circulating videos. Shocking comments or moments from news panels or programs can turn out to be willful or intentional attempts for publicity and manufactured popularity. Online videos, particularly those featuring recognizable personalities, demand some level of hesitation and even suspicion.

Artie Lange's appearance on Joe Buck Live last evening has sparked some discussion about his appointed role on a panel discussing sports and celebrity. His comments were inappropriate, no question. The consensus today seems to be that HBO should have known that this is what Lange would do, if given the opportunity. And, it seems from some reports, HBO welcomed that.

This explanation makes the most sense while trying to understand the events that took place on the live program. Because this was the first show in a new series, you can argue that the producers wanted to make a name for the show, and, to a larger degree, for Buck. Buck's show replaces HBO: Costas Now which was hosted by the beloved and network-departed Bob Costas. Something needed to happen that would distance Buck's show from its champion predecessor.

You'll notice how little Buck tries to diffuse the situation once it erupts. He's akin to a passerby who spots a raging fire and rather than try to extinguish it, or to alert the authorities to the fire, he glorifies it as a fiasco worth admiration. In that way, Buck shirks his responsibility as the host in charge of keeping order and fair play. He applauds what's taking place on the stage before him, keenly aware that this video will generate buzz for him in the days, weeks and even months to come.

To some degree, Buck righteously forewarns his audience that he'll be performing in that panel as more of a ring leader than a moderator. When introducing panelist Paul Rudd at the onset, Buck says: "[Reporters] linger and they want you to say something that they can then spin and turn around and blow up."

That's what HBO surely hoped to accomplish when it booked Lange and encouraged him to inundate the other panelists with his loose cannon hijinks.

Just look how quickly the conversation gets derailed. Buck never makes an actual effort to speak to the three comedians about where sports and celebrity intersect. In fact, I'm still entirely clueless and befuddled by what they would even have to say about the subject at hand. Had Buck wanted to pursue the discussion to any extent, Lange's antics would have come across as rude interruptions. Yet, because Buck so readily and steadily throws up his hands as if to indicate he's let go of the reins, Lange steps into the spotlight that's been presented to him.

It's true that Lange has always thrived on shock. HBO Sports reporters like Bryant Gumbel and Costas have found success in other ways, though, through a conglomeration of sound reporting, intelligent discussion, inquisitiveness and informative viewpoints. Buck could have followed in this tradition had he not allowed one bad panelist to spoil the bunch.

That's what Costas did when, last year, a panel grew too intense on Costas Now. He remained poised and in control while trying to push the conversation along. It seems especially noteworthy then to point out that on the same night "Joe Buck Live" debuted, Costas appeared on his new MLB Network show "Studio 42 with Bob Costas." Costas engaged Hall of Famer Bob Gibson and his old teammate Tim McCarver in thoughtful conversation about their reflections of the game. They shared stories and insights that paid tribute to the sport of baseball through outlining its rich historic tradition.

Faced now with what we would see emerge from "Joe Buck Live" later in the night, Costas' show exemplifies much more than his appreciation and devotion to his subjects. It reflects the honor he brings to his role and responsibility as a host to promote, preserve and protect his discussion.

To be fair, maybe in Buck's case he was responding to producers' orders to relent to the direction that his over-the-top panelist had taken the talk. He was a victim of HBO's ongoing venture to create good TV whenever possible, even at the expense of Buck's reputation. Yet, you have to wonder if, had Costas still been hosting his HBO show, whether he'd have brought Lange on the program in the first place.

These kinds of questions are sure to bounce around the sports blogs. But one thing last night's sport-talking panels left without question is who the real professional is.