Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tony Romo's debut

Tony Romo made his CBS debut on Sunday, serving as the TV analyst alongside play-by-play man Jim Nantz as the Eye's top NFL broadcasting team. When it was announced that Romo would assume that position, replacing thunderously boring Phil Simms, there were many raised eyebrows among football fans. It’s one thing to bring on a rookie broadcaster, but to put him in the brightest spotlight? When he’s never done this before?

Rarely does that go well.

But to the surprise of many, Romo did great for his first game. As a longtime quarterback he’s no stranger to pressure. And with fourteen years experience on the field the man knows the game. But two things stood out. He wasn’t afraid to speak. Trust me, in my baseball announcing days I’ve had partners who sat there like statues. And secondly – and this was the big one – he showed genuine enthusiasm.

He had some life. He had some personality.

And viewers are responding positively. Tony Romo is a breath of fresh air.

My question is: why is this such a revelation?

Network (and local) broadcasters have become so safe and generic that it’s often hard to tell them apart. That’s who gets hired these days. They call the play-by-play or analyze the plays but add nothing.

And so when someone comes along with just the least bit of personality, fans think the Messiah has arrived. How many times do networks have to learn this lesson? Didn’t anything about John Madden resonate? Or Dick Vitale? Or Don Meredith? Or Bob Uecker? Or Bill Walton? Or Jon Miller? Or even, God help me, Howard Cosell?

Why is showmanship considered an innovative new concept? This is fucking entertainment. It should be a no-brainer.

Sure you will have haters on Twitter. But you always have that now. I’m sure #thePopeSucks has numerous tweets. Lots of people may hate these announcers with personality. But so what? They’ll watch anyway. They’ll hate watch. They’ll watch even longer.

I just don’t understand the reluctance to hire colorful sportscasters when the audience clearly responds to them. Tony Romo, in his first game, was 1000% better than Phil Simms on his best day. And he will only get better. And here’s the thing, he doesn’t have to do shtick. He doesn’t have to sing. He’s doing his job, analyzing the plays (and predicting them, which is quite amazing) but conveying his message with enthusiasm. Just being excited to be there is a giant improvement from 90% of today’s sportscasters.

Tony Romo’s figured it out. Alex Rodriguez figured it out for baseball. Now if only the people hiring talent would have a clue.


Joel Keller said...

Isn't this what people said about Phil Simms when he started doing color 20+ years ago? So refreshing, he gives it to you straight, his observations are so contemporary, etc.

Now he's been in the broadcast game longer than he was in the NFL, and he got jaded and a little lazy (and I'm a Simms fan, being that he lives in NJ I'm a Gen X Giants fan).

Who says that Romo won't get like that in a few years? Even Madden slowed down eventually.

Chris in Cowtown said...

So are you saying that having Dennis Miller on MNF was a bad idea?

Lord Lillis said...

The difference between Tony Romo and those other beezers is that Romo put the time and effort to learn how to be a broadcaster. This article in the NY Post was what tipped me off. It says Romo spoke with people who were already in the business to pick their brains. He worked closely with his producer. He sat and called practice games from the stands. It's no wonder he did well - he was prepared.

BTW: many of those steps sound familiar. Do you think they would work for baseball coverage?

Anonymous said...

Hello Ken,

Full disclosure: I'm a wacko, sicko, HUGE Dallas Cowboys fan. And a huge sports fan overall. And a huge fan of broadcasters and announcers overall. That being said: I knew from the moment CBS hired Romo he would be great at TV. He really knows football, he's smart, he's personable, he has "it". It's obvious. I look forward to listening for the rest of this season- and longer.

Michael said...

Eons ago, Red Barber said that he had time on the air to develop a personality, and today's broadcasters really don't because there's so much more commercial time. He also wasn't critical of Howard Cosell's approach because he said that in this business, you need to have a style, and Cosell had one.

So, we do remember and think of the ones who stand out. Vanilla doesn't stand out.

By the way, Romo's predictions reminded me of one of the great crews ever, the CBS Radio Monday Night Football team of Jack Buck and Hank Stram. Stram used to call plays constantly and nail them.

VP81955 said...

John Madden wouldn't be hired today. He's not a quarterback.

Peter said...

Ken, I saw the recent news of Don Ohlmeyer's death. I wasn't familiar with the name but I read that he was the NBC executive who coined the phrase "must see TV", which obviously inspired the title of your novel (which readers can buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Must-Kill-TV-Ken-Levine/dp/1493674978/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1505230662&sr=1-1&keywords=must+kill+tv+ken+levine )

Did your paths ever cross when he was working at NBC?

LouOCNY said...

Lord Lillis - thats exactly what Ken did....try and find his book...

Desmond said...

Today's generation of intelligent, productive people have no time for mindless activities like football, much less the airheads who call the games.

Mike Schryver said...

A-Rod was a cheater and a Yankee. Some viewers will never accept him.
With Pete Rose on the broadcast with him, it looks like FOX is trying to build an all-cheaters-and-scoundrels panel. They just need to replace Frank Thomas to get there.

Mike H. said...

Ken, no review of the late night MNF crew game on ESPN? It was staggeringly amateurish.

Diane D said...

In my effort to win the autographed CHEERS script, I watched the pilot episode of BIG WAVE DAVE'S, and I had forgotten how extraordinarily wonderful and hilarious it was!!! I cannot believe it was on for less than one season. The casting, characters, writing (obviously) were all so outstanding, and there's no way to own even the limited number of episodes that exist.

Hawaii and surfing have gotten so much more popular in recent years, don't you think with very little updating it could be remade now? I personally wouldn't like to see a single word changed, but it wouldn't do to speak of "compact disks" as new.

I'll never win the CHEERS script, but I would be willing to buy one. I don't suppose that's possible.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Dick Vitale got ten minutes doing the pre-game yak yak with Johnny Mac and the others at the just concluded Open - he was fun there - and less bombastic than usual.

Howard Cosell was a pompous ass with a law degree and (he thought) a big vocabulary. A friend and I (both with bigger vocabularies) disagreed whether Cosell misused the language on purpose. I thought he confidently malappropriated the Queen's English.

Cosell once asked Uecker: "you DO know what 'truculent' means?"

Uecker said: "Sure, if you let me have your truck keys, that's a truck-you-lent!"

(loved Uecker)

Of course The Dandy Don Meredith/Cosell banter was sometimes Highly Entertaining.

So far, I've only seen A-Rod in Postseason along with the Pete Rose/Frank Thomas tag-team. Rodriguez has all the earmarks of a top-notch color man - well-spoken, informed-in-general, informed-in-particular, keeps it relevant, not stiff. It helps that he's a handsome devil and seems like he prepares very well.

I liked Walton when he did color on NBA games. His "abrasive" criticism of poorly-coached, not-completely-aware players showed me that his coaching was on par with mine (and not just John Wooden). I heard him last season as a guest-commentator at a Trailblazers game - good stuff. I understand he exasperates his pro-announcer partner at college games - that's got to be a kick - might cause me to watch the babies play this season.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Some viewers will never accept (cheating Yankee Rodriguez)... FOX is trying to build an all-cheaters-and-scoundrels panel

FOX has succeeded in delivering entertaining yak-yak - changing the channel works to find pharmaceutically-pure-and-bland. Miss Phil Simms so soon?

There are plenty of sports blogs where righteous and moralizing scolds will love that stuff.

John Nixon said...

I think that there's a certain quality some people have that makes them good at talking into a microphone and/or camera. It's a quality that's hard to define or identify objectively...maybe it's a more active imagination. It's the same quality that allowed some of us, as kids, to sit in our rooms by ourselves and talk to imaginary friends or sing to an imaginary audience. When someone is intelligent, knowledgeable and has an outgoing personality plus the ability described above, then you have someone who has the potential to be a good sports broadcaster.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, same subject matter,NFL Football. Attendance at both the Rams and 49'rs games was embarrassing. More people at LACC for the Walkers Cup that showed up for the Ram's game, even with ticket prices at $6.00 Levi Stadium has been a total bust attendance wise. And it's not just the Niner's bad play or Kapernick blow back. Local hero Christian McCaffery couldn't even draw anyone. Wait 'til they build that over priced mausoleum in Inglewood that no one will show up for. Especially the Chargers.

RyderDA said...

Come to Canada. Here on the national NHL broadcasts, we have Don Cherry. A former player (though only 1 NHL game) and veteran NHL coach, he knows what he's talking about. But he's loud, brash, flamboyant, politically incorrect, abrasive, opinionated to a brutal degree, and wears beautifully tailored clothes made out of tablecloths or curtains or any other ridiculous and garish fabric he can get his hands on. He is an icon, and people who don't even like the NHL will talk about Don Cherry. You want character in sports broadcasting, and to see the impact it can have on ratings? Look no further than Cherry.

Doug said...

Good to hear. Less Phil Simms on my Sundays is always a good thing.

Alan Christensen said...

Every time I hear/read Tony Romo's name I get a craving for ribs.

Liggie said...

When Romo was hired, Simm called him and said, "Tony, you son of a bitch." Romo, who's spoken to Simms a lot during his playing career, couldn't stop laughing.

Cherry, I've has my fill of him.

MikeN said...

Before ESPN went all liberal, they tried to have Rush Limbaugh as an MNF announcer, supported by everyone at ESPN, opposed by ABC higher ups. They ended up having him as a studio guy before being pushed to resigning over minor comments.
He had a history as a sports announcer and would have been the type of personality that might have worked for MNF, possibly even saving their ratings with the miserable games they've had the past three years. Sunday Night has been dominating with Chris Collinsworth.

Anonymous said...

Too many people in the booth spoils the game. Especially on ESPN...