Archive for Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Linenberger: ‘Who’s Now’ feature goes over the top

August 22, 2007

Please forgive me if this column is outdated or not as hip as it might have been had it been published two or three weeks ago.

Similarly, Eric Sorrentino's article last week about Barry Bonds was all the rage then, but now the chase for Hank Aaron's home run record is old news.

Why is that?

Because it's not NOW.

And according to ESPN's provocative, in-depth, thought-provoking feature that finished up a few weeks ago, that's what is most important in life.

I'm talking about the "Who's Now?" feature, that earth-shattering segment that could be seen weekday after weekday.

ESPN ran a hypothetical tournament in which today's top athletes squared off in a 32-person bracket. Athletes moved onto the next round based on who America voted more "Now."

"Now," as ESPN anchors explained every weekday throughout July and a smidge of August, meant who was the best athlete, the best pop culture icon, had the most endorsements, etc.

I realize in television, it's key to always update your product and add some new bells and whistles.

But this was ridiculous.

The ongoing segment brought in sports gurus, actors and actresses.

It's certainly an interesting concept, but it doesn't deserve a month-long run on ESPN.

After a couple weeks, I jokingly asked Mirror sports editor Eric Sorrentino "Who is more 'Now'? Ali Pistora or Roxi Grizzle?"

Pistora and Grizzle lit up the track and field scene with their impressive seasons in the javelin.

Although Grizzle could not defend her Kansas Relays title from the previous year, the senior won her first gold medal at the state meet in May in Wichita and will be going for a second consecutive title in 2008.

Then you have Pistora, the high school phenom, who was unable to win a gold medal at state, but placed every year of her high school career. And, she posted big numbers throughout her prep career in volleyball and basketball. Of course, she also has the "now" factor in that she will continue her javelin career at Kansas State.

I give ESPN props for devising a creative feature, but there have to be limitations. The NCAA Tournament has a 65-team field and takes three weeks to complete.

The Who's Now tournament had 32 athletes who didn't actually compete against each other and it lasted a month.

ESPN has had an impressive run since its inception in 1979 and likely will always be the leader among sports networks.

But soon, I fear it will be like MTV: "Remember when MTV actually was music television?"

I hope I don't catch myself one day saying "Remember when ESPN was about reporting sports and broadcasting athletic events?"

Unfortunately, the network has expanded into a movie studio and has released a series of made-for-TV movies, its latest being the mini-series "The Bronx Is Burning."

Good mini-series idea: Patrick Swayze in the Civil War epic "North and South" that originally aired in the 1980s.

Bad mini-series idea: Oliver Platt as New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

There are limitations, and sometimes ESPN and MTV leap over that line.

As for new features, perhaps ESPN could hold another hypothetical bracket feature called "Who From Then Is Now?"

Take greats such as Joe Namath, Hank Aaron, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali and determine which historic sports icon is most talked about today and is still most visible.

But here's my requirement: Pick a champion in about a week, not a month.

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