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With Spike TV's Video Games Award a distant memory and the Golden Globes and Oscars still a couple of weeks away, we know you're in awards withdrawal. Thus we proudly present SI.com Media Awards, commemorating the best and worst of sports broadcasting in 2004. The envelopes, please:
PERSON OF THE YEAR: Brian Kenny, ESPN
In a year where a breast (Janet Jackson) and a butt (Nicollette Sheridan) were analyzed as much as the Zapruder film, Kenny, 41, gets rewarded for his understated excellence. As the host of The Hot List (which airs daily on ESPN News), the anchor presides over a breaking news and interview show that has become a must-see companion to SportsCenter. How versatile is Kenny? During one 60-minute stretch a couple of weeks ago, he seamlessly conducted interviews on Edgar Renteria, the NHL labor situation, Real Madrid soccer and Kobe Bryant's endorsement future.
BEST DOCUMENTARY: PBS' The Fight
The home of Clifford The Big Red Dog and Mr. Rogers has shown a surprising affinity for producing great sports documentaries, and this riveting 90-minute examination of Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, a pair of men who personified the ideological struggle of the time, is no exception. Filmmaker Barak Goodman highlighted the lead-up to the iconic Louis-Scheming rematch on June 22, 1938, at Yankee Stadium and unearthed some splendid footage, including a clip of Louis and Schmeling that appeared in a 1960 episode of This Is Your Life -- the first time the two had seen each other in 20 years.
THE VICTOR CONTE AWARD
To the hosts of ESPN's NBA Shootaround, for its testosterone-heavy approach to the Pacers-Piston fans melee. The group (studio host John Saunders, ex-NBA players Tim Legler and Greg Anthony and reporter Stephen A. Smith) put the onus squarely on Detroit fans, led by the usually reliable Saunders, who channeled his inner Vince McMahon by calling the fans "sissies" and "punks." (Without the Times Square background, you would think these guys were broadcasting from "Pro Player" Stadium). Give some credit to Saunders and Smith for quick mea culpas in the days following but true praise belongs to game announcers Mike Breen and Bill Walton, who offered sobering and reasoned commentary as this disgraceful melee unfolded.
BEST INDIVIDUAL FEATURE
To HBO's Inside the NFL, for its heartbreaking examination of the late former Dolphins quarterback David Woodley, who died penniless at age 44 (the youngest Super Bowl quarterback to pass away) and was buried in an unmarked plot in a Shreveport, La. An incredibly sad and moving piece.
THE NIELSEN RATING OF THE YEAR: ABC
The network's Game 3 coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals between Calgary and Tampa Bay earned a 1.4 rating, the second-lowest rating for any prime-time program on a major network in TV history.
THE NIELSEN RATING OF THE YEAR (REVERSE THE CURSE EDITION): Fox
The network's Game 7 coverage of the ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox drew a 56.6 rating in Boston, which beat local ratings for both of the New England Patriots' Super Bowl wins.
THE BOB RYAN AWARD: Bob Ryan, The Boston Globe and ESPN
While Bob Ryan is a splendid columnist and should be lauded for his work schedule, he can always be counted on each year to utter something spectacularly ridiculous during one of his entertaining appearances as an ESPN microphone head.
Let me preface this by stating the patently obvious: Ryan has forgotten more about basketball than I'll ever know. And I am a huge supporter of print people getting airtime next to the good-hair folks. But last week Ryan called out nine-time NBA champion Phil Jackson on ESPN's The Sports Reporters, declaring that Jackson "has never had the guts to take over a team that isn't ready to win the championship."
First, is it really showing guts to seek out a job that doesn't employ the best people in your profession, or doesn't give you the best chance for success, be it immediate or long-term? By that logic, why doesn't Ryan quit the Globe and ESPN and show some guts by joining Gawker.com or the Pax Network?(Perhaps President Bush and John Kerry should have showed more guts by running for President of the Ivory Coast.)
And as far as Jackson's basketball past, we'll assume Ryan is omitting his first head coaching gig as the top dog of the CBA's Albany Patroons. Some quick research courtesy of the Albany Times-Union shows that the Patroons fired coach Dean Meminger on Jan. 23, 1983, after the Pats' record dipped to 8-15. Jackson was introduced three days later, and devoid of Michael, Scottie, Dennis, Shaq and Kobe, he gutted his way to a CBA title a year later. Jackson then joined a not-ready-for prime time Bulls team in 1987 as an assistant after Chicago went 40-42 under Doug Collins. Jackson became the head coach two years later. Two years later, they won a title.
BEST NEWCOMER: Shannon Sharpe, CBS studio analyst
As a player ,Sharpe lusted after the microphone with the same passion he had for catching footballs. He's fit in seamlessly with the CBS crew -- and at a cheaper price than the overrated Deion Sanders.
FIVE MOVES THAT WORKED
1. ABC hasn't heard a peep of criticism about Michelle Tafoya since she replaced Lisa Guerrero on the sidelines of Monday Night Football. Why? Unlike the unqualified Guerrero, Tafoya had years of experience as a game reporter and on-field journalist. No surprise -- she performed like a pro on MNF.
2. Airing poker as much as possible. The 22-episode run of ESPN's World Series of Poker averaged a 1.7 rating, a 42 percent increase from 2003 when ESPN aired just seven episodes. Add that to the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour, Fox Sports Net's Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament, and Bravo's (The B in Bravo here is for B-level) Celebrity Poker Showdown. Look for the trend to grow in 2005, beginning in January when ESPN debuts its second episodic series, Tilt, a drama based around the poker world.
3. CBS gambled by switching the roles of Greg Gumbel (from play-by-play to the host of The NFL Today) and Jim Nantz (from the studio to No. 1 play-by-play announcer). Both men have excelled in their new roles and the network's football coverage hasn't missed a beat.
4. ESPN Classic aligning with 60 Minutes to create 60 Minutes on ESPN Classic was ingenious programming. The decades-old interviews (such as the late Harry Reasoner interviewing a young Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, or Mike Wallace sitting with a repentant Lawrence Taylor) is riveting stuff.
5. NBC offered the most extensive Olympics coverage ever: 1,210 hours over 17 days. Overkill? The viewers didn't think so. The network finished with a 15.0 average national prime-time rating for the Athens Games, up nine percent from the 2000 Sydney Olympics
THREE MOVES THAT DIDN'T
1. Last February, Fox Sports Net executive vice president George Greenberg told USA Today'sRudy Martzke that "I believe Max [Kellerman] is the next generation of the five-tool (TV) player." Viewers and critics disagreed. I-Max has drawn minimal ratings and if there is a more self-indulgent show in history of television (at least one that doesn't star Donald Trump), we haven't seen it.
2.The NFL Today's less-than-clever animated cartoon "Thurston Long" makes Fox NFL Sunday in-house comic Frank Caliendo look like Buster Keaton. Both Thurston and Fox's use of the animated Scooter figure on its baseball coverage are examples of how technology does not always help society.
3. ESPN's Hu$tle was the year's biggest bust outside of the one bared by Ms. Jackson. The Pete Rose biopic was an unwatchable mess, though the wig on top of actor Tom Seizmore gave a brilliant performance.
SAY GOODBYE TO:
1. MTV ever doing a Super Bowl halftime show. CBS' 20 owned stations were fined a total of $550,000 by the Federal Communications Commission after the Super Bowl incident.
2.John McEnroe hosting a talk show and Mark Cuban hosting a reality show. CNBC dumped the tennis talker due to abysmal ratings while Cuban (who we were rooting for) proved to be Trump-lite in prime-time for ABC. If the DVD versions of these shows ever come out, you'll know the apocalypse is nigh.