Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Awards show status quo, significant change

Change sometimes comes slowly to sports, with strong programs and teams remaining successful for several years -- and that’s the case for TV sports, too.

A look at the best TV sports individuals and teams from the past year looks strikingly similar to the list from last year, but there have been changes. There have also been efforts that will reshape the way viewers get sports for years to come.

Here’s a look:

Best Studio Show: "College GameDay" (ESPN)
At some point, this show might not be the best of its ilk on TV but that’s simply not the case now. With a strong mix of talent (in front of the camera and behind), “GameDay” entertains, informs and thrives. Plus, it does so from a different location every week. So much gets squeezed into the show each week, and it rarely feels overwhelming. Best of all, camaraderie and preparation seem to define the work of those on the program. There are no contrived or forced humor segments. That’s a credit to those who produce the show and a sign of respect for fans and viewers. (Those NFL studio shows that utilize such schlock could learn a lesson from that approach.) Simply put, “GameDay” makes game days special and it’s invariably worth watching.

Best Studio Host: Chris Fowler (ESPN)
He’s the biggest reason “GameDay works. Fowler directs traffic and brings an important and obvious level of preparation that provides a foundation for the show. So many people handle similar roles, and do so well across sports and networks, but Fowler sets the standard.

Best Play-by-Play Team: Mike Breen/Mark Jackson/Jeff Van Gundy (ESPN)
Again, camaraderie comes to mind with this group. While Breen rarely misses a beat during the game, it’s apparent he Jackson and Van Gundy apparent get along. They can critique and offer information while proving their connection to the league and with each other. Because of that, they connect with viewers.

Best Play-by-Play Man: Mike Emrick (NBC Sports)
Few broadcasters make an event worth watching. It’s usually the event itself that provides the reason people watch. In Emrick’s case, though, that feels different. Clearly viewers are not tuning into NHL games for Emrick in a manner that reshapes ratings, but they should. He’s smart, smooth and worth hearing and watching.

Best Color Commentator: Jay Bilas (ESPN)
He’s somewhat of a multi-tool talent, strong covering games as a color commentator and just as strong in a studio role. Additionally, he’s opinionated and not afraid to share that opinion and challenge those in power, especially the NCAA.

Best Sideline Reporter: Doris Burke (ESPN)
It’s the toughest job in TV sports and few do it as well as the multi-talented Burke. She rarely traffics in silliness or softballs and has earned the respect of those she covers as well as viewers.

Best Insider/Expert: Tim Tebow (ESPN)
He’s part color commentator, part expert and pretty much a complete success story in terms of his broadcasting career. Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner, went from a brief, over-hyped and under-appreciated NFL career to an expected role at ESPN. Many wondered how the nicest guy in the sports would could survive as an analyst, but he conveyed his expertise well. He shone through during Bowl Championship Series coverage early in the year and than landed a key role with the fledgling SEC Network. He also got an opportunity with “Good Morning America.” It’s been a quick climb, thanks to his name and the relationship he has with viewers and so far he’s done quite well.

Newcomer(s) of the Year: Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir (NBC Sports)
Maybe they should not get the nod because figure skating gets so little attention compared to other major televised sports, but they’re certainly something different. Their work during the Winter Olympics quickly established them as breakout stars -- and not just because they were different. They were able to convey their on-ice experience as competitors and they made competition more entertaining.

TV Feature of the Year: "Lauren Hill: One More Game" (ESPN)
Once again, Tom Rinaldi found a wonderful story and told it wonderfully. A cancer-stricken women’s college basketball player hoping to play just one game before she dies sounds like a made-for-TV movie, but it was certainly real life and the story was certainly delivered well by Rinaldi, producer Ben Webber and editor Josh Drake. Through their work, the story of 19-year-old Lauren Hill of Mt. St. Joseph became even more compelling. The family provided important access and Rinaldi and Co. clearly appreciated what they got and respected the family while telling a tough story.

TV Moment/Story of the Year: “BCS Megacast” and “Teamcast”
With its coverage of the last BCS championship game, ESPN provided one template, and with their coverage of the Final Four, CBS Sports, TBS and TNT provided a similarly successful example of the same approach. Apparently, more is better -- especially for big events. Those events showed multiple channels focusing in different ways on the same event could resonate with advertisers and viewers, drawing attention and ratings while helping connect people to the contests. Such an approach is clearly the future of sports on TV, and that's a good thing.

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