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Good, bad and silly of year in TV

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Brian Lowry

A media columnist and critic for Variety since 2003, Brian Lowry spent seven years at the L.A. Times and has contributed to both NPR and TV Guide Network. He writes weekly for FOX Sports. A UCLA alum, Lowry proudly attended the '95 title game. MORE>>
 
   
 

Trying to identify highlights and lowlights of sports broadcasting in 2011 — a year characterized by labor strife and unusually sordid scandals — simple “best” and “worst” labels don’t quite do the subject justice.

A more accurate breakdown requires three categories, with apologies to director Sergio Leone: The good, the bad and the silly.

The Good

Charles Barkley: Not only is he the most entertaining, flat-out funny basketball analyst, but he actually exhibited terrific prognosticating chops during the 2011 NBA playoffs, predicting upsets of the Spurs and Lakers and Dallas winning it all.

Bob Costas: The NBC host’s interview with Jerry Sandusky — the former assistant at the center of the child-sexual abuse scandal that cost legendary coach Joe Paterno his job — was methodical and devastating, including a stunning 17-second lapse between Costas asking Sandusky if he was sexually attracted to children and the word “No.”

ESPN documentaries: There’s a lot of junk on ESPN, but the sports documentaries that began with its “30 for 30” anniversary initiative remain among the best programs on television.

CBS-Turner’s NCAA Tournament team-up: The joint four-network model made it possible to provide access to every game, allowing fans to program their own lineup. College basketball has its problems, but the tournament — already the year’s best sporting event — actually got better thanks to the arrangement.

Joe Buck: Not only did he do a terrific job announcing the World Series, but his call back to a his late dad, Jack, in a similar walk-off homer situation two decades earlier — “We will see you tomorrow night!” — hit just the right note of nostalgia.

Al Michaels. All told, the smoothest, most authoritative play-by-play guy around.

The Bad

ESPN and the Sandusky scandal: The sports titan fumbled its initial coverage — focusing on aspects like recruiting — and improved sparingly thereafter. That included announcers who struggled during the first post-Paterno outing against Nebraska, and play-by-play guy Sean McDonough’s ill-advised pitch — given lingering uncertainty as to who knew what, when — to retain interim coach Tom Bradley during the Penn State-Wisconsin game.

NFL PLAYOFF PICTURE

 
AFC
Division leaders
AFC East
y-Patriots 11-3
AFC North
x-Ravens 10-4
AFC South
y-Texans 10-4
AFC West
Broncos 8-6
Wild cards
x-Steelers 10-4
Jets 8-6
Still alive
Bengals 8-6
Titans 7-7
Raiders 7-7
Chargers 7-7
Chiefs 6-8

 

NFC
Division leaders
NFC North
y-Packers 13-1
NFC West
y-49ers 11-3
NFC South
x-Saints 11-3
NFC East
Cowboys 8-6
Wild cards
Falcons 9-5
Lions 9-5
Still alive
Seahawks 7-7
Giants 7-7
Bears 7-7
Cardinals 7-7
Eagles 6-8
y-clinched division title
x-clinched playoff berth
 

Bryant Gumbel: During the NBA lockout, the host of HBO’s “Real Sports” accused league commissioner David Stern of behaving like a “modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys.” While the players are predominantly African-American, Gumbel’s inflammatory language sounded overheated, discussing what was fundamentally a high-stakes labor dispute between millionaire players and billionaire owners.

The Frank McCourt/Dodgers soap opera: FOX tried to keep the Dodgers’ embattled owner afloat with a $30 million loan, then sued to block an early auctioning of the team’s TV rights to facilitate a sale. In a broader sense this mess underscores the role TV money plays in propping up owners — including McCourt, who appears to have treated the Dodgers like a personal piggy bank.

Gus Johnson: The hyper-caffeinated announcer insisted he doesn’t intentionally exaggerate his calls, before telling the New York Times, “Do I give it an extra sizzle, as a performer? Of course I do. This is theater. It made me famous!” Sure did — and really annoying.

Bill Raftery: Among slogan-spouting hoops analysts, still the best reason to hit the “mute” button.

The Silly

Hank Williams Jr., ESPN and FOX News: You don’t have to love President Obama to think Williams’ analogy linking him to Hitler is excessive, just as you don’t have to hate Obama to feel ESPN looked cowardly by canning the country crooner’s “Monday Night Football” intro for saying so. As for FOX News, why encourage him to talk politics in the first place?

TEBOW TIME

Can't get enough Tebow? Then hang out here.

Dan Patrick and Pat O’Brien: Before getting fired from CBS’ “Two and a Half Men,” Charlie Sheen knew where to go seeking sympathetic ears and softball interviewers: sports-talk radio. You didn’t need to be a warlock with tiger’s blood, as the actor described himself, to tee off on the slow-pitch questions tossed his way by Patrick and O’Brien.

The Kardashians and the NBA: Committed as they are to living on camera, Khloe dragged hubby/then-Laker Lamar Odom into a privacy-erasing reality show, while sister Kim orchestrated a made-for-TV marriage to New Jersey’s Kris Humphries that collapsed after 72 days, unleashing a flurry of tabloid finger-pointing.

If the league wants to lock somebody out next year, they should start with this family.

Email:lowryonsports@gmail.com; Twitter: blowryontv.

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