Monday, February 20, 2017

A morning without "Mike & Mike" provides a preview of what's to come for ESPN Radio ... and that's not good

With the Presidents Day holiday, ESPN Radio listeners got a preview, of sorts, of what lies ahead for them in terms of morning drive sports talk. Specifically that's no "Mike & Mike" -- as both had the day off this morning. 

Overall, news (and even new rumors) out of ESPN has been almost nonexistent as the supposed breakup of “Mike & Mike” nears.

Sports Illustrated first reported the program might end, but no timetable has been specified since that initial report weeks ago. Still, the report seems logical and it’s probably just a matter of the all-sports network finding the right timing.

Maybe it’ll happen around the Final Four, or maybe it’ll be in the somewhat slower summer months when a replacement program makes its debut.

Whenever it happens, what’s next for Mike Greenberg might be a New York City-based morning program that airs in ESPN, perhaps a rebranded “SportsCenter” in the way the network turned its late-night show into a vehicle for Scott Van Pelt and, more recently, its approach to the 6 p.m. “SportsCenter” featuring Jemele Hill and Michael Smith.

What’s next for Mike Golic might be another morning partner on radio or some combination of partners.

Greenberg, who recently earned a big contract from ESPN, has seemingly sparked any potential changes to the show. The most recent was an ill-fated move to the Big Apple a couple of years ago. That was to include an additional host, with the show possibly emanating from Times Square. It never happened.

For more than a decade and half, “Mike and Mike” has been the flag bearer for ESPN. The odd couple chemistry of the two hosts might be a bit contrived at times, but it works. Still, with demographics changing, ESPN has been trying to find ways to broaden the show’s audience even while the hosts age a bit.

The show is rarely intentionally controversial and never mean spirited. For the most part, it’s good talk radio.

ESPN often uses “Mike and Mike” to test out talent, too. A good performance by guests in that safe environment can often lead to bigger opportunities.

Here’s the thing, though: “Mike and Mike” might be better as a sum than in individual pieces. Greenberg’s anti-germ sensibilities and lack of athletic experience, despite his journalism chops, still need a personality to play against. He has that in spades with self-deprecating Golic, the former NFL veteran who invariably puts his college career at Notre Dame front and center as well.

Together, they’re fun and informative. Separately, they might be nearly as good.
No matter what happens, they will be missed if the breakup occurs. From a program some thought might not last more than a few months, “Mike and Mike” has grown and earned a spot in the sports media landscape. The hosts and the show have earned respect throughout the industry.

For example, when Rich Russo, the Penn State alum who directed the Super Bowl for Fox Sports (so that’s a pretty heady job), was told his name was mentioned on “Mike and Mike” before the big game he sounded genuinely thrilled.

“Mike and Mike” is not take-a-side talk just for kicks. It’s not a schtick, and that might be the biggest reason it’ll be a loss if the show ends. Its heart is in the fact that it’s genuine -- a rare find in sports-talk related programming anymore.

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