Rating Nashville's TV Sports Talking Heads
In the “old days,” you used to have to have a certain agreeable look to get into television. You also had to have a demonstrably mellifluous or resonant voice. In the old days, guys went to “broadcasting school,” then worked their way up the ladder. Or, they trained as journalists, then made the transition to TV once they were deemed to have the appropriately telegenic looks and voice. After all, why slog away writing several thousand words worth of newspaper copy for $250 a week, when you can report a fraction of that on television for $1000 a week?
There's an article available on the Web [click here] that asks the hilarious question, "Does Being an Athlete Help You Get a Job in Television?" Well, we know that being a jock doesn't necessarily propel anyone into the "CBS Evening News" anchor chair. Yet the jocks who've already made millions on the gridiron or on the basketball court segue with ease into highly paid television sports jobs.
Fact is, there are many talented writers and would-be broadcasters who haven't a snowball's chance in hell of breaking in to TV sports. Woe especially to any non-minority male of non-jock persuasion who might try to bang his head getting into electronic sports media. A guy like that has various major obstacles to hurdle in securing these positions. The insurmountable modern trends include:
1. The firmly entrenched “good ol’ boy” network of non-jock males already in the profession.
2. The tendency of networks to tap has-been jocks to appear on broadcasts as “experts.”
3. The increasing encroachment of women into historically male arenas of employment.
All of these realities play themselves out in Nashville’s world of TV sports. It might be interesting to apply the standards of the “old days” to these lucky folks with the plum jobs. So, in the interests of consumer advocacy—and also to have a little fun—let’s rate the Nashville TV sports talking heads. Let’s see how they measure up to various standards, including presence, vocal quality, authority, and general appeal.
1. John Dwyer WKRN-Channel 2’s sports director is also Music City’s leading sports talking head. Dwyer is nice-looking, poised, confident, has a resonant voice, and speaks with authority. His work is wholly articulate and virtually mistake-free. He’s also leading the league in double-dipping, hosting a radio show on 106.7 WFAN and also Channel 2’s “The Jeff Fisher Show” (aka "Monday Night Live with Jeff Fisher"). Dwyer also has a blog—http://www.dwyerwire.com. Staying so busy helps to keep him ahead of the pack. Heck, he's even doing the Lottery broadcast. (Yet no one is perfect: Dwyer recently referred to New York Jets center Kevin Mawae as Kevin MOW-y. It's pronounced Ma-WIGH.)
2. Hope Hines Avuncular WTVF-Channel 5 veteran Hines is still very good at what he does. His manner may be old school but it doesn’t get in the way of a solid, straightforward sports report. He’s authoritative and generally error-free, he injects some personality into his reportage, and in general handles the gig with smooth professionalism throughout. Maybe he ought to be good after all these years, but the important thing is that he still holds his own with the competition.
3. Aaron Solomon For a second banana on WSMV-Channel 4, Solomon sure looks like a first-stringer. He’s assured and mistake-free, with a gentle but firm voice, and he also has a knack for infusing his report with subtle levity. He could be a lead sports anchor anywhere. The miracle is that he’s not on his own station.
4. Cory Curtis Curtis is in the strange position of having to carry John Dwyer’s jockstrap. Curtis looks the TV part to a tee—he’s handsome (but not a pretty-boy), has a very resonant voice, and delivers the news soundly. He looks a little self-conscious at times, especially on “The Jeff Fisher Show,” when he has to share the podium with Dwyer. It’s hard to be #2, though, especially when you might want to be #1. Nevertheless, he does a solid pro-level job.
5. Rudy Kalis Maybe if Channel 4 top dog Rudy Kalis could bring his voice down an octave or so, he’d project a little more of the kind of macho we’ve come to expect in our sports broadcasters. The high pitch, coupled with an overly folksy delivery, give the impression that Rudy might be more comfortable leading a Boy Scout troop on a hike than he is talking Vols football. Car racing really gets his motor running, which makes sense in the South; still, he reads a little too “small market” to be believed. (I’ll bet he hangs out with radio nimrod George Plaster.) To the good, Kalis is a vet who knows how to read the news professionally, and no one can say he isn’t enthusiastic about his work.
6. Steve Wrigley If it’s tough being #2, imagine how it is being #3. Wrigley cleans up after Kalis and Solomon on Channel 4. He’s not bad at all, delivering a straightforward, enthusiastic report, into which he tries to inject some “Isn’t sports great?” personality. Wrigley doesn’t stand out among the crowd, but he’s a perfectly acceptable sports talking head.
7. Mark Howard Channel 5’s Howard is a sober, dry reporter who sometimes looks like he needs an enema. His overwrought delivery rings false and at the same time verges on boring because his basic vocal pattern is monotonous. Plus, the fact is that he just doesn’t look very comfortable on-air. He rarely smiles (the accompanying photo notwithstanding), and watching and listening to him almost becomes a chore. Maybe he’s just insecure. He efficiently reads the TelePrompTer, though. Howard occasionally writes a sports column for the Nashville City Paper. It’s a decent effort.
8. Paul Jones WZTV-Channel 17 is Nashville’s FOX station, and Jones is the main sports guy. If he weren’t doing sports for a profession, I’d peg Jones for one of two other professions: taking over for the late Fred Rogers on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” or teaching a classroom of middle-schoolers. How this guy has stayed employed in the sports world I’ll never know. Maybe it’s just that he’s not what you’d expect. He delivers the facts all right, but he reads very “soft” visually. He’s soft-spoken as well, and that doesn’t help to meet our preconceived expectations of the resonant sports anchor. It’s not that the FOX sports report is bad, it’s just that it’s hard to take Jones seriously.
9. Eric Yutzy Yutzy is Music City’s “young African American male sports reporter” and the #3 personality on Channel 5. He’s trying so hard to be relevant that he practically jumps out through the TV screen. Poor guy, he obviously wants to impress his elders and gain acceptance. He can read the news for sure, but it’s damn irritating how obviously he’s trying to push himself across as “authoritative.” Maybe that’s because it’s easy to surmise that he doesn’t nearly know as much factually or historically as your average radio call-in slob. Yutzy is young, but he’s a minority who’s proved he can read a TelePrompTer, so a long career is assured.
10. Sara Walsh Where do we begin with Channel 2’s “golden girl”? She’s got a great dentist, that’s for sure. When Walsh first hit the Nashville sports scene in 2003, it was clear that she was an ex-jock gal searching for the proper makeover. She’s succeeded a bit at the latter. Now if she would only stop hollering at us from the studio. Can you say “EARNEST”?? One gets the feeling that Walsh was probably making home video audition tapes from the age of 9, plotting and planning her meteoric sports TV career, which maybe will morph someday into taking over from Mary Hart on "Entertainment Tonight." Walsh’s overenthusiastic approach is simply annoying, and you wish someone would shake her and say, “It’s okay, Sara, you ARE lovable and capable.” But she’s a female. And she’s blonde. So the sky’s the limit. That’s the way it works in modern-day TV culture. Walsh works for the local ABC affiliate, and she's probably champing at the bit to grab that sideline reporter job on "Monday Night Football."
11. Amy Fadool In FOX sports reporter Amy Fadool’s first week on the air, she referred to Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch as Kyle Vander Bosch. In her second week, Fadool referred to tight end Bo Scaife as Ben Scaife. In the same broadcast, she referred to Indianapolis Colts defensive back Bob SAN-ders as Bob SAWN-ders. Either the cue-card guy got things wrong, or Fadool can’t read. Or she doesn't know a Titan from a titmouse. Needless to say, she appears clueless about sports. And since when did FOX become a place for on-the-job training for clueless wannabe female sports reporters? There must be 500 already employed male and female sports reporters nationwide in both radio and TV who’d have liked that job—and really know their sports—not to mention tons of better-qualified recent college grads. But they’re probably not blonde. Or “perky.” Don’t get me wrong: women have the rights to these jobs equal to men. Just as long as they know their stuff. The problem is that men, because they follow sports religiously, actually know sports better. Almost always. They actually know who Kyle Vanden Bosch is. Unfortunately, TV’s a visual medium, and station execs are always shoving females down our throats. Ever seen Andrea Brody on George Michael’s syndicated NBC show “Sports Machine” on Sunday nights? She’s clearly not a sports person, yet she gets a nice TV salary and a podium. To her, it’s a broadcasting job, and passion about the topic is irrelevant. Anyway, Fadool looks like the same ilk. Maybe when Lara Spencer steps down from “The Insider,” Fadool can make her move.
The Ex-Jock Factor
Two prominent ex-Titans are currently plying their trade in Nashville television. Without any broadcasting background, without any demonstrated skills as writers or announcers, they have been assigned some prime-time gigs during football season. This is the kind of thing that drives college grads with broadcasting degrees insane. They can’t get jobs, while ex-jocks who already made $40 million playing football get prominent on-air slots. Alas, that’s the way it goes. On the professional level, I find both of these guys close to embarrassing.
1. Neil O’Donnell O’Donnell’s been adopted by Hope Hines and the Channel 5 family, who figured he must need a paycheck after his long NFL career. (Huh?) O’Donnell is from New Jersey, and if Northerners think Southerners talk funny, they should get a load of O’Donnell, who sounds like a longshoreman out of On the Waterfront. O’Donnell is currently courageously fumbling his way through Extemporaneous Sports Analysis 101. He’s not really articulate, though he’s able to lamely quote the occasional cliche (which Eddie George has trouble with [see below]). He also has a stiff on-camera presence, with all the personality of Lurch from The Addams Family. They say Neil’s a real nice guy. But so are a lot of people. Let me know when someone hires ex-Titan Kevin Carter. Him I’d watch.
2. Eddie George George is also a really nice guy. He gained over 10,000 yards in his NFL career, and he led the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV. He does yoga too. I’m all for Eddie. I suppose his added insights on Channel 2 would be valuable—IF YOU COULD UNDERSTAND THEM. George mumbles his way through the broadcast, and it’s additionally painful to listen to him search for the proper words to express what he’s intending to say. He may have played football at a very high level, but he’s not an articulate off-the-cuff spokesperson. If he weren’t an ex-jock, the station manager would be saying to him, “How does a job driving our mobile camera crew truck sound?” George’s presence does a disservice to ex-jocks who might be capable, and it’s a slap in the face to serious sports broadcasting wannabes who know how to analyze a game. Does he get paid for this? To be fair, Eddie does have some telegeneity, but that’s about it.
1. Mike Keith Keith isn't really an anchor in the typical way. His primary job is the radio voice of the Titans. But he's been turning up increasingly on the local FOX network with special reports, and he hosts the weekly "Titans All Access" show with the team's general manager, Floyd Reese. Keith strikes you as that nice Mr. Average brother-in-law many of us have. You know the type: You don't mind seeing him at family functions and shooting the sports breeze with him for a while, but you probably are perfectly happy not to see him the rest of the year. He's got jockish enthusiasm, and on balance does a pretty decent job setting up videoclips, doing player profiles, and getting some information out of Reese. Keith has a very nice comfortable niche for himself, without the constant anchor exposure.