Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pardon all the guest hosts

Okay, one more post before I attempt to find interesting ways to describe shows I haven't seen like "My Own Worst Enemy" and "Surviving Suburbia." After the jump, some thoughts on "Pardon the Interruption," and why we haven't seen too many images like that this summer...

As I've mentioned in the past, I watch or listen to "PTI" every day. It is the first, best, and really only tolerable one of ESPN's "Angry Middle-Aged Newspapermen Yell At Each Other for 30 Minutes" shows. Where the others seem manufactured and stupid (because they are), "PTI" works because of the genuine chemistry and camaraderie between Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. Though both are great writers, neither is a particularly brilliant analyst and have plenty of blind spots, but they're aware of that and don't try to turn "PTI" into a show where they try to lord their intellectual superiority over all of sports fandom. (That would be "Mike and the Mad Dog.") It's less a sports version of Siskel & Ebert than it is a comedy show, and Tony and Wilbon are funny and charming enough together to make it work, day in and day out, no matter how slow the news day or how over-covered the subject.

The problem is, Tony has been AWOL for virtually the entire summer. Since the start of July, I can think of two shows where he's appeared, and one of them was on a day when J.A. Adande was filling in for Wilbon. He's back on the show for the rest of this week, but then "PTI" takes a week off, and he's only scheduled for a couple of days the following week (after which he has to get surgery for the hernia he was complaining about all the time before he disappeared from the show), and I'm losing my patience with this.

An ESPN PR rep says Tony's taken the same number of vacation days as last year, and that it seems longer this summer because "PTI" went dark for two weeks. I'm not going to dispute his figures, but the show inevitably suffers when one of the hosts is out -- and even more when (shudder) both are out on the same day -- and it's not like summer has been a dead period for sports news.

I do like some of the guest hosts. Dan LeBatard has an appropriate sense for the level of absurdity of the show and knows how to push both Tony and Wilbon's buttons. Bob Ryan can be amusing with Wilbon, though he and Tony often seem redundant together. And Rick Reilly wasn't terrible during his two-day stint earlier this week, particularly on the second day. (Again, Reilly's less of a sportswriter/analyst than he is a light comedian, so the format suits him. I heard some complaints that he seemed stiff on-air, but as I only listened to the podcast versions of both, I can't speak to that.) But God help us on the days when the fill-ins are the likes of Adande, or Dan Shaughnessy or the reprehensible Jay Mariotti.

"PTI" is, was, and always should be about this particular relationship between these two guys, and no matter how affable the guests sometimes are, it's not the same. It's the same way "At the Movies" never really recovered from Gene Siskel's death; Richard Roeper's charming and good on camera, and it could be fun to see Ebert strain to conceal his frustration when Roeper was on a particularly populist streak, but the magic was gone.

"PTI" is one of the few oases in my day, something that helps me get through annoying household chores, or rage-inducing traffic, or the latest depressing development in the newspaper business. Is it too much to ask that one of the co-hosts doesn't take an entire season off? Think of us poor slobs south of the Canadian border, Tony. Please.


Unknown said...

Alan, i couldn't agree more. Both about the show and the sense of loss when TK isn't there. You even nailed it down to the right co-hosts (When not expecting it, Lebetard can be just the right amount of agrravation.)

I give them the benefit during the summer b/c usually with just baseball there's enough other sports outlets to dissect the big news. But, with such a heavyloaded summer it would have been better with them both there.

My only reservation: A whole rant on PTI and no positive mention of Reali???

Anonymous said...

Totally agree Alan. When the TV season is in full force I usually use PTI as an appetizer to a full night of programming. (A particularly wonderful combo is PTI, 30 Rock, The Office, LOST).

I also listen to Kornheiser's DC radio show (which he does from January to June) and on it he regularly talked about how he would take the summer off in "preparation" for Monday Night Football (read: to play golf and put off getting surgery).

Either way, if Tony and/or Mike are absent the least they can do is spare us from the third and fourth string guest-hosts.

Eric said...

I hate Mariotti as much as they joke about viewers hating LeBatard.


Alan Sepinwall said...

I hate Mariotti as much as they joke about viewers hating LeBatard.

Does anyone, anywhere, like Mariotti?

I think his bosses at ESPN and the Sun-Times think people love to hate him, but everyone I've ever discussed him with just despises him and goes out of their way to avoid him. When I saw he was guest-hosting one episode a few weeks back, I just deleted it from the DVR, unwatched.

Anonymous said...

Alan -- I listen to the podcast every day as well (usually at the gym in the evenings). I'd estimate that TK and Wilbon have been on the say show at the same time maybe 1/2 to 3/5 of this year. I don't mind the occasional fill-in, but the show just doesn't hold up long-term without those guys.

I agree on LeBatard -- he's the best fill-in, in my opinion. I listen to the podcast so have no idea what Rick Reilly has looked like, but Reilly did nothing for me the last two days. Too much humor -- not enough substance.

Though I don't want to encourage more absences, I wonder if there's any women they could try as a fill-in? (I remember Jackie McMullan doing sometimes, but she was just OK and didn't seem to enjoy it.) Probably not -- unless they use Erin Andrews just so Tony or Mike can drool on her for 22 minutes.

Chris Lawrence said...

In wrestling, Mariotti would be referred to as having "X-Pac Heat." As you say, I think LeBatard and Ryan are the only guest hosts who really work.

And, unless the equally loathsome Jim Rome has suddenly become a newspaper writer and whose show makes me long for the days of the abortion that was "Stephen A Smith Yells At The Camera And His Guests For 30 Minutes" (not the actual title, but should have been), may I suggest replacing "Newspapermen" with something a bit broader ("people ESPN inexplicably has on its payroll" seems a bit long).

Shawn Anderson said...

I switched over to ESPN realizing I hadn't seen PTI in a few days, and wouldn't you know it... there's Tony, looking tan (well, less pasty anyway) and rested.

Anonymous said...

Alan, at the risk of sounding sychophantic, you're spot-on about PTI. TK is the luckiest schlub to morph from a newspaper writer to ubiquitous talking head. he is on vacation the most of anyone (including those who are RETIRED). he is gone for six months out of the year from his DC radio show (and is still paid handsomely throughout the year), he routinely takes off of PTI and i am expecting him to call in sick for a couple of games for MNF! i want his agent!

and about mariotti, he never got picked for kick ball in second grade and is still exacting his revenge on the world. but i will take him over Screamin' A. Smith anyday.

Anonymous said...

Tony still hasn't had his surgery?? I thought that was the whole reason he was gone for so long. Now I'm even more annoyed by all of the absences.

The only guest host that I'll watch for an entire episode is LeBatard. Otherwise, odds are good that I won't make it through to the end of the show. But the show is ten times better when Tony and Mike are together.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I realize I neglected to remind you that, as usual, Tony will be absent on many Tuesdays during the football season due to his fear of flying and time on the Kornheiser Cruiser, so we'll get some rotation of LeBatard, Reilly, Adande and Ryan.

Shawn Anderson said...

Yeah, sort of brought up the fear of flying thing again today, referencing the two long bus rides it took to make it back to the show and how tired he was. "I'm back one day and I've already had it!"

Hooks Orpik said...

I love PTI and watch it all the time. I don't mind the summer absences of Wilbon/Kornheiser. Other than baseball (in a non-Olympic year), the sports world is mostly barren. I don't need to hear the reptitive Sawks/Yanks or Cubs every single day of summer until the NFL, NCAA sports, basketball and, occasionally, my beloved hockey is back in season.

Given the other obligations these guys have (Wilbon traveling around for the WaPo, TK doing MNF) it's no surprise nor dissatisfaction to me that they need a little time to take off and re-charge the batteries a little. And there's no other time to do that then the dog days of summer.

But you're right, it's a great thing when they're together. The chemistry between them is clear and entertaining and Reali adds to that too. Even though he has his show, I think "Anthony Joseph Fill-In-Extra-Middle-Name-Here Reali" would make the best sub host of anyone.

Unknown said...

Actually his radio show no longer has a home. The station he was on (3WT) went under.

Anonymous said...

For me, LeBatard has actually reached a point where I like him as much as Mike or Tony. Along with never taking the show seriously, he is probably a better analyst than either of them. I also like Ryan and can tolerate Adande. The rest I would gladly be rid of. And as much as I hate Mariotti, I'd take a thousand of him before I subject myself to a single Dan Shaugnessy. That man is the embodiment of ass.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure the ESPN rep is right -- Kornheiser has basically taken the entire month of July off the past two years, since starting Monday Night Football.

It's, I believe, to prepare for the slog of football season.

I don't mind, however, since the only sport I like is football, so I'm less interested in PTI during July (except for the whole Favre thing).

BTW, I genuinely like Mariotti. I even read his columns even though I don't live in Chicago.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a sports fan, though I like baseball & winter Olympics well enough. But I'm married to a sports fanatic (and former sports radio producer) and he's had me hooked on PTI for years. You don't even have to love sports to love the chemistry between Kornheiser & Wilbon (whose Bartman/Cubs blind spot I can *almost* let slide). Your Siskel & Ebert comparison is apt, I think. It's my understanding that the show evolved because they used to argue in much the same way at the water cooler at the Post and somebody thought to develop their banter into a TV show. Smart move, that.

Finally, I'll admit to giggling every time I hear Le Betard yell "Bam!"

Anonymous said...

Oh, and add me to the list of Mariotti haters. And I love when Wilbon busts Tony's chops about the Yanks and the Sawx, but as a fan of "those other Sox" & the Cubs (I'm a mutant, I know), I can't help but love the jabs.

Eric said...

I would also like to see Riali guest-host some time. I'd also be interested to see Mike Greenberg fill in (as though he's not overexposed enough already.) I used to listen to Tony's radio show waaay back in the pre-ESPN and ESPN days, even listening to the "Internet Show" - during commercials, they would just leave the mikes on and stream whatever they were talking about. Sometimes it would include Wilbon or Junior calling in to argue about the previous segment. Surprise! one day they said some stuff that embarassed ESPN, the Internet Show got killed, a producer got fired, and Tony took a week's "Vacation."

I'm sure Tony will find some way to get back on the radio - it's his favorite thing to do, and now that he's retired from the Post, and with this likely being his last year of MNF, I can't imagine he won't find an outlet somewhere. It's a shame he's got such a hatred/fear of the Email Machine, because he'd make a great blogger and podcaster.

pixelwax said...

Having become a recent frequent WAWer and liked most everybody's opinions on various shows, maybe I should give PTI a chance. Maybe. But I need an attitude adjustment if I'm going to get anything out it. Help?

See, I've always felt that if I'm gonna watch PTI, I might as well watch the real thing, The Daily 10 on E! (Or Extra, ET, Access Hollywood, etc. Take your pick.) IOW, if I want pointless speculation and gossip, I'll get it from pros with a side order of sex but without all the yelling.

Thus, much like Wilbon is of Kornheiser, I get rather haughty and dismissive of others who watch sports-radio-on-TV shows. Yeah, what of it? I'm working on it!

What is it that each of you gets out of PTI beyond the pointless yelling and irreconcilable conclusions too often based upon not fact but pure conjecture?

Anonymous said...

I think national viewers are discovering what we in the DC area have known for years: Tony is lazy. He's also narcissistic, arrogant, and rude, but that's off-topic here.

His boorish behavior has worn out his welcome in DC, and it's wearing thin on Monday Night Football. He needs to be careful about his next career steps now that his local radio show is off the air.

Yes, PTI benefits greatly from Wilbon and Kornheiser's chemistry. But the show could go on if Kornheiser were to leave. If Wilbon ever leaves, the show will be kaput in six months. All Tony will be able to prattle on about is American Idol. He stopped being a must-read sports commentator long ago.

Anonymous said...

You know I love Around the Horn (mainly for Woody Paige), and lately it has been magical with Mariotti gone. I enjoy the show, with the stupid mustache-growing contest and Paige's chalkboard and recently Paige 2009. Mariotti not there spares me a headache.

ATH matches pretty well with PTI, but seriously, I want Tony's job. I want to be able to take a whole summer off like that for no good reason. It makes my pairing of ATH/PTI at dinner much harder to take, without him there though.

Rick Reilly's Padraig Harrington impersonation? Priceless. I loved the accent.

Anonymous said...


At least you get the full show south of the border. We miss the Big Finish (thanks to the SportsCenter integration) and various episodes (when TSN has some property it would rather air).

If you're missing the camaraderie in sportscasting (and can handle CanCon) try Prime Time Sports at 5pm on the Fan 590. Although it suffers the same problem on occasions through the summer when the regular hosts disappear for a week.

It's worth listening for Bob MacCowan and either Jim Kelly or Steven Brunt.

Don't bother with Mike Toth no matter who the co-host is. Not ready for prime time.

Adam said...

Good night, Canada!

I like Adande. Other than that, I can't stand any of the other guest hosts, and Michael Wilbon is the glue of the show. That, and the format, which never gets enough credit.

I'd like to see more diverse guests during the second segment -- they've had some great coaches on, for instance, and they never return.

Anonymous said...

What is it that each of you gets out of PTI beyond the pointless yelling and irreconcilable conclusions too often based upon not fact but pure conjecture?

Great question that i've had to justify to my friends for years. the reason i watch PTI is i get the top/hot stories in sports with some opinion/stats without to watch Sports Center or read the newspaper (sorry, alan) or surf endless web sites. it's like a video version of readers digest for sports. it's one of the best shows ESPN has come up with since its inception.

Bobman said...

Wow, a PTI post.

I gotta say I've mostly enjoyed Reilly the two days he was on. I think a big part of being a successful guest host is being comfortable in that seat, and it seems like so many of them fail at that task - Adande has hosted the show enough times now, and still seems like a fish out of water.

Bob Ryan I feel like I SHOULD like, him being a Boston guy and all, and I like his columns in the Globe, but can't stand his guest-hosting stints. Maybe if I watched it on the radio and didn't have to look at his mug (mean, but true, he does not have a face for television) it would be better.

Similarly, I like what LeBetard has to say about sports most of the time, and he handles himself on the show well, but the whole "everyeone hates LeBetard, and LeBetard hates the games" schtick has worn tired after he's co-hosted the show 19,000 times. At least he's dropped the 'bam' for the most part.

So yeah, I'm hoping to have Tony back soon.

Oh, and for whomever suggested Reali co-host? I love Reali for his part in the show, w hich he does well, but I feel like him sitting in Kornheiser or Wilbon's seat would cause the universe to implode on itself.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, I actually witnessed a week of PTI with the guest hosts from hell: Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. Oh, they were great at arguing with each other, all right. But I wanted to hide under the couch.

I love PTI and am a Mr. Tony fan, but it's true that if Wilbon isn't around to make sure he talks about sports, he can become quite insufferable (as in the last year of his radio show, aka "I don't know anything about that, and if I did, I don't feel like tlaking about it right now.")

Plus, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't like me, as I'm younger than Wilbon.

bill said...

to recap, here's the marketing research report for ESPN:

WIlbon -- If [he] ever leaves, the show will be kaput in six months; the glue of the show

Kornheiser -- Tony is lazy. He's also narcissistic, arrogant, and rude

Dan LeBatard -- appropriate sense for the level of absurdity

Adande -- can tolerate; fish out of water

Rick Reilly -- Too much humor -- not enough substance

Jay Mariotti -- reprehensible ; everyone I've ever discussed him with just despises him and goes out of their way to avoid him

Jim Rome -- equally loathsome

Dan Shaugnessy -- That man is the embodiment of ass

Stephen A Smith -- Yells At The Camera And His Guests For 30 Minutes

Anonymous said...

I don't think I've ever learned anything from watching the show but they've been around long enough and are affable so I listen to their opinions on what's happening in sports. Their opinion is usually wrong and completely misguided but their personalities cover for that.

I think it goes back to the Buzz v. Blog debate where these MSM sports casters put in their 8 hrs of work then absorb pop culture while the people running blogs are surfing stat sites all day while putting in their 8 hrs at a regular office job only to get home and watch the Direct TV packages of (name the sport) for hours on end. There is no doubt in my mind that I've watched more baseball games this year alone than Tony's seen in five. That's why their info is bad, it's only their job but it's our passion.

I went to a taping of PTI a few years back, prior to the show, Tony was acting very cold and curmudgeonly but the second the cameras stopped rolling, he turned into the nicest guy in the world and wanted to know who wanted to take pictures. Wilbon was nice from the start but that’s why we invite them into our living rooms.

I wouldn’t want a real life friend like Mariotti to come into my home and I certainly won’t watch his drivel willingly.

pixelwax said...

@anonymous, ye of the: Great question that i've had to justify to my friends for years. the reason i watch PTI is i get the top/hot stories in sports with some opinion/stats without to watch Sports Center...

Ah, okay. THANK YOU. That makes total sense. I've always been somewhat immersed in sports and with what's going on -- too much so at times -- that I've not bothered with the talk shows. I barely even watch Sports Center since it wastes my time showing the same reply three, four times for what seems like every replay they show, which show up again in the daily "lists" features they run as well as in Baseball Tonight, the NFL show, etc. I shall keep this in mind when I return to life (job, society, etc.) this fall. :)

Anonymous said...

What I've never understood is why Bill Simmons has never appeared on PTI (either as a guest or substitute host). I assume it has something to do with Wilbon's oft-stated opinion that "bloggers" aren't real journalists and have no business on legitimate media.

Bobman said...

Mustachioed Dan LeBetard on a stick closing out the show today had me laughing out loud. That was awesome.

Alan Sepinwall said...

What I've never understood is why Bill Simmons has never appeared on PTI (either as a guest or substitute host). I assume it has something to do with Wilbon's oft-stated opinion that "bloggers" aren't real journalists and have no business on legitimate media.

Simmons will be the first to tell you that he's terrible on TV. He always looks embarrassed when he does those E:60 appearances.

But I believe Wilbon did one of Simmons' earliest podcasts, so it's not like Mike has a beef against the Sports Guy.

Adam said...

And Simmons' podcasts, for what it's worth, are often outstanding -- the Bill Walton and David Stern interviews, all the JackO conversations ... there's a lot of good stuff there.