Josh Elliott Calls Morning SportsCenter ESPN's Acknowledgment of the Blogosphere
For as long as I can remember, mornings on ESPN have been one long loop of SportsCenter reruns. That all changes on Monday, when ESPN will launch a new six-hour block of live SportsCenters from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
But is there really enough going on in the world of sports at that time to fill the six hours of live TV that ESPN is offering?
Josh Elliott, who will anchor the SportsCenter every morning from 9 to noon with Hannah Storm, says the most important reason for the new live SportsCenter is that ESPN needs to stay competitive with the Internet. In an interview today, Elliott told me that he sees the morning SportsCenter as the kind of show that blog readers will like. He also talked about his own daily blog-reading habits and his brief tenure as a blogger for Sports Illustrated. The interview is below.
Why is there a live morning SportsCenter? Don't people turning on the TV in the morning mostly want to see the highlights from the previous night's games? And isn't that what SportsCenter reruns already provide?
It is what the SportsCenter reruns already provide and provide well, but I also think it's perhaps ESPN's not-so-tacit acknowledgment that the blogosphere exists. People want to consume their media, they want more of it, they want it immediately, they want it to feel as new as it can.
We're still going to offer highlights. It's not like we're offering a SportsCenter no one knew existed, but we're going to give highlights hopefully with a little more nuance and a little more insight. We hope to go inside games as much as we can. We hope to have reactions via our analysts and via our local radio affiliates.
We also -- to come back to my initial point -- see it as an acknowledgment that the blogosphere exists, that people are getting up and they're logging on and they already know what happened across the country in every sport. ... The internet if nothing else is the most nimble newsgathering collective in history.
ESPN originally planned to do nine live hours but then scaled it back to six. Why?
I really think they just realized that the resources it takes to do nine hours of live television would have been extraordinary. They just reached a breaking point where they had stretched themselves too thin. We are -- I don't want to say stretched thin -- but if a flu bug hits Bristol we'd be impacted. And what we'd intended to do at 6 to 9 Eastern, 3 to 6 Pacific, there wouldn't be the opportunities to advance enough stories to outweigh the costs of going live.
It would have been great. Linda Cohn and Steve Berthiaume would have been great on it, but I really just think they figured out that it was a little too much.
It would have been tough for them to get up that early. Mike Greenberg has mentioned he gets up at 3:40 a.m. for Mike and Mike in the Morning.
Right now my alarm goes off at 5:01. If it went off at 4:59 I would have to pound it every day. The hours before 5 a.m. shouldn't exist.... When people ask me about my job, I say the one second of my day that is lousy is the alarm.
Your show will be going head to head with First Take on ESPN2. What can you offer viewers that Skip Bayless can't?
I think it's what Skip Bayless offers viewers that we can't. They have elements like "First and Ten." I don't know how much debate we'll have on our show. They have Skip Bayless, who's very much a First Take personality . First Take is here to stay. ... If Skip Bayless is your thing, you're in luck. If Skip Bayless isn't your thing but you still want sports news, you can come to us.
There are basically two approaches to anchoring SportsCenter. There's the more comedic approach of a Kenny Mayne or Craig Kilborn, and then there's the more journalistic approach of a Bob Ley or Brian Kenny. You're a Columbia journalism graduate, so does that mean you see yourself as taking more of the journalistic approach?
I guess. ... Back in the day, when I was asked what I would want to do at ESPN, I always said I wanted to host Outside the Lines. I didn't grow up wanting to be a SportsCenter anchor. It's a skill set that, for the guys who take the more entertaining approach to it, is remarkable. To watch that in its moment is to watch masters at work. You get handed a three-minute highlight of a game you didn't wantch and you have to deliver it with authority.
I skew probably more to the Bob Ley mold. Bob is my personal hero at work. The best thing that ever happened to me was getting to work with him and see how he prepares for shows. Bob is the classic, consummate most natural talent in the building and the hardest worker in the building.
I'm as big a pop culture addict as anyone I know, but weaving my love of Flight of the Conchords into a highlight doesn't come naturally to me. That's probably a failing of mine. I think if I would maybe lighten up a little bit it would open new avenues to me, and maybe three hours today in a relaxed setting will afford that opportunity.
Your ESPN bio says you "served as a comedy development assistant for FOX TV." What exactly does that entail?
I wandered through the wilderness. I had my wild period after college and I didn't know what I wanted to be. The one thing I knew I didn't want to be was a sports writer. I was in college and the local sports writers in Santa Barbara were the angriest people I had been around. But I went to L.A. and my first job at Fox was working for the senior vice president of comedy development. A lot of bad television was in the hopper. For all the bad shows on TV, there's so much worse TV that doesn't get on. But then an Arrested Development comes on and you see that the planets aligned -- although they fail if they're too smart for their own good.
You have a background in blogging. In fact, you wrote something that was referred to as The Daily Blog on Sports Illustrated's web site all the way back in 2004, pre-Deadspin, although looking at it now it doesn't really look like a blog to me. What do you think of the way sports blogs have grown in the last four years?
I think, frankly, I'm as avid a reader as anybody I know, certainly anybody I know at ESPN. I think the blogosphere is a great thing. I say that almost half-cringing, hoping that the corner offices in Bristol don't rap me on the knuckles. I'm not saying the blogosphere is always right as a collective or always fair as a collective, and I understand that [ESPN] can be the big target.
At times I think we take hits that are undeserved, at other times we take pokes that are -- I don't want to say deserved -- but understandable.The good of the blogosphere so outweighs, in my opinion, the hit piece stuff or the unsubstantiated gossipy stuff. And I think people can decide for themselves what is accurate and what is not.
Watching the Costas Now program, not just Buzz Bissinger's epic and horrifying meltdown but also just a lot of the introductory pieces, this idea of the internet as a lawless electronic frontier, this Wild West, this Sodom and Gomorrah -- I just think that is so much older media types in dress socks and bermuda shorts in their lawn chairs, ranting about the infernal rock and roll.
I'm on your blog, I'm on any number of blogs, I spend probbaly three or four hours a day on the Internet. When I was anchoring the 6 [p.m. SportsCenter] I was frequently the one coming into meetings [with blog posts] saying "Did you see this?"
The blogosphere is here to stay, and I think it's come a long way since I was at Sports Illustrated. ... I didn't understand the technology back then but I think it's come a long way, I think it's great, I think FanHouse is great, I think The Big Lead is great, Deadspin is great, Awful Announcing is great. It's egalitarian, it's democratic, it's very libertarian because you can decide for yourself what to take. And anything that reduces the East Coast bias is great for me personally.
Are you aware that Awful Announcing and Deadspin will both be live blogging your debut on Monday?
Yes, because I read them all. I read the dispatches about this show, and I read the comments sections. ... You read the comments about yourself and you find out that people think you're a smug jerk and people question your mother's dating history -- to be as delicate as I can -- and it doesn't really impact me, it just sort of intrigues me.
Are you blogging on SportsCenter.com?
Yes, I fully intend to blog, and probably blog to the edge of content and decorum. I'll be linking to sites, even sites that haven't always been fair to us in the past. In the end, a blog really is "Hey, here's how I see the world." And if people like it and come back, that's great.
I'm a writer at my core and I've had to sort of compartmentalize that and put it away and I'm really excited that I'm at a point where I feel like we have this new TV adventure starting, I also get to write again. I'm going to be blogging as often as I can.
Why did you leave Sports Illustrated for ESPN?
I think I left because I was coming up on about six years at the magazine. I loved my time at SI. Without question, I loved my time at SI. But I was covering the NFL for SI, and there's a glass ceiling. Peter King wasn't going anywhere, Mike Silver was still there, Dr. Z was always going to be Dr. Z, and Jeff Chadiha and myself were jockeying for a spot.
Only in the last year or two has Sports Illustrated figured out its web site. It's still a red-headed stepchild. And there weren't all that many opportunities. ... I love opportunities in other media. I would never have been satisfied as a single-medium journalist. ... I really had started to wonder about different opportunities.
I knew that if the perfect opportunity came up, I would take it, and that was this opportunity.
Michael Silver once told a story about you, he and Peter King going out to eat, and it sounds as though Peter can eat an entire pizza in about a minute. Do you have any good stories about the journalists you've worked with?
I remember that, it was the Super Bowl in Atlanta, Rams-Titans, and it was the three of us, Z was there, our editor was there and Dave Fleming. Z was doing what he always does, which is order a remarkably expensive bottle of wine, having it uncorked, complaining about it and sending it back.
Peter is just the sweetest guy, and he can just indulge his id at any point. ... So the food comes. And this is PK: He said, "I really need to talk to an African-American assistant coach. A guy who really should be a coach in this league, to talk about the percentage of black head coaches in the league. I need to talk to somebody like Ted Cottrell."
His phone rang 30 seconds later and it was Ted Cottrell, and he takes the phone call, and as he takes the phone call, the food arrives. And Flem had gone outside to talk to his wife on the phone, so Peter sees Flem's pizza, and you can see him thinking, "How do I ask the question so Ted will speak for a long time?" So he reaches over, and he grabs two whole pieces of Flem's pizza, eats them in two bites. It was the most staggering thing I had ever seen.
ESPN is trying to get into blogging. They've hired eight journalists to blog about the NFL and seven to cover college football, for instance. Do you think that's going to work, or is blogging by its nature something done by people who are more outsiders?
I think we're about to find out. I don't mean to be on the fence there, but I think blogging is like the West Coast Offense -- 25 teams in the NFL say they run some version of the West Coast Offense but they're doing 25 different things. Some people blog one way and some people blog another way, some people treat it as a column, some treat it only as links. Using that as my guide, I really think it'll work. I'm biased because some of the guys they hired are friends of mine, and I think they can do with it what they want to do with it.
Blogs don't have to all resemble one another. The discussion of "Are bloggers journalists and is blogging journalism?" is an unanswerable question. It is so profound a change in media, the blogosphere is.