Basic Biittner: Sports Network Kicks 'S'

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I, like millions of others, have really enjoyed watching the ESPN cable television channel for many years now, and certainly have not minded at all when they kept adding channels such as ESPN 2, ESPN Classic, and (my favorite) ESPN News.

I'm starting to get a little concerned, though, about what exactly is considered a "sport," due to some of the programs which have been shown on ESPN lately.

First, there were the "X-Games." While I certainly can't deny that the skateboarders, etc., are very talented at what they do, and it is indeed a competition, this kind of seems like a "Made For Television" sport, somehat like the old ABC "Superstars" show, where professional athletes ran through tires, scaled walls, and leaped tall buildings with a single bound.

The X-Games are certainly not one of the traditional (mostly team) sports.

A couple of years ago, ESPN started showing the National Spelling Bee. Again, it is a competition, and enjoyable to a degee (though personally I'd rather see them spell difficult-to-spell words that everyone might actually come across in everyday life, but maybe that's just me), but I know that a spelling bee is definitely NOT a sport.

And now, the latest "sports" craze to be shown on the sports network - speed eating! During the 4th of July week, ESPN not only ran the Coney Island Hot Dog eating contest, but continually ran the "highlights" on Sportscenter. Once again, it is a competition, and requires some skill, but it is NOT a sport, and I haven't found anyone who really enjoys - or is entertained - by guys stuffing their mouths full of hot dogs as fast as they can.

This week, ESPN began a series, "The Bronx is Burning," about the summer of 1977 in New York City - interspersing the "Bronx Zoo" Yankee team of Billy, Reggie, and George with the terrible "Son of Sam" killings of young ladies for some reason. This marks the most recent attempt by ESPN to air sports-related original productions. Past efforts have included movies abou Pete Rose, Dale Earnhart, a "fictitious" pro football league, the Texas A & M teams of Bear Bryant, and probably some that I'm forgetting . Well, actually I'm trying to "forget" all of them.

I don't know why ESPN wants to take a good thing and make it worse by "branching out" and "diversifying" their product - some might call it watering down.

Then I realized - this has probably been their plan all along - ESPN stands for Entertainment and Sports Programming. They just wanted to lull all of us sports fans in to get hooked, then they'd start bringing in more and more "entertainment" (using the word loosely). Of course, we can get entertainment on the other 500 channels that are out there now, but never mind that. ESPN has been part of the same corporate group as ABC television, not exactly a beacon of enlightening tv shows, for many years now, and it seems ESPN has caught whatever "illness" their sister network has.