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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Monday, February 23, 2004

Dissecting The Ramalamahamdam

If you've watched ESPN at all in the last two months, you've seen the promos for Dream Job, their new reality show where people compete to earn a one-year contract as a SportsCenter anchor. Actually, if you haven't watched ESPN at all in the last two months, I'm curious as to why you're at this site reading this column. But that's another story.

Before I get to sharing my thoughts on the premiere of Dream Job, which aired last night, let me just throw a couple things out there that should preface the review.

First, I tried out for Dream Job. This was back in September, before I got my current job at ESPN. I didn't make it past the first round, and I wasn't particularly surprised. I didn't go into the tryouts with any expectations, so I wasn't disappointed. However, I wonder what the later stages of the tryouts were like. It seemed to me like the first cuts were simply to pare down the number of contestants that they seriously looked at, and the show jumped right into the final 12 contestants. I have no idea how they got to those 12.

The other thing that should be mentioned is that whoever wins this competition might very well see his dream job turn into a nightmare. Most, if not all, of the anchors at ESPN don't like the idea of the show. The winner will get airtime, which will cut into their airtime. The established figures like Stu Scott and Dan Patrick don't need to worry, but someone like John Seibel, who does ESPNEWS (and in my opinion is the best anchor ESPNEWS has) obviously doesn't want or need the competition. He's got a right to complain - he put in years of work at smaller stations to build his career, and now some college kid is going to come in and take his job?

That aside, here's what I thought of the show, and we'll break it down like so.

Host: Scott is the host, and unfortunately, he can't be voted off the show. One of the judges, Al Jaffe, hit the nail on the head when he told Scott, "Half the time I don't know what you're talking about." Scott takes his G-rated thugspeak to new lows in this show, and he looks silly. For example, he counted down to one contestant's segment, "Trey, dos, unos." No word on what language that's from.

Judges: I was a little worried about the judges when I first saw them, especially LaVar Arrington, because I figured having him as a judge would kind of be like having a chef criticize the writing of a restaurant critic. However, Arrington made some good comments. Jaffe, whom I mentioned before, is ESPN's VP of Talent, and he's the guy who makes the hiring decisions for anchors who join ESPN the normal way. Kit Hoover, one of the hosts of the ESPN2 show Cold Pizza, is another host, and doesn't really bring much to the table. Finally, rounding out the panel is Tony Kornheiser, who was probably chosen because his sarcasm reminded the producers of Simon Cowell. However, the judges just weren't biting the way the judges on American Idol do. Unfortunately, that's part of the appeal of Idol - and the judges should get meaner.

Format: Each of the first six contestants (the other six will go next week) had to go through two highlights, SportsCenter style. That's how it should be; that's the job they're competing for. However, they also threw in a Taboo-style game in the middle of the show where each contestant took a turn trying to guess names to which the other contestants gave them clues. Unlike Taboo, there were no prohibited words. Even worse, this segment was not part of the judging criteria. It was flat-out worthless. One part I did like, though, was the "parting shot." This was where each contestant, before the judges voted, got to plead their case one last time. Some used it to display some humor and wit, others to promise they'd do better next time. I don't know how much impact the parting shot will have on the decisions, but it might be interesting to see what is said in the contestants' last moments.

Voting: This part of the show was designed terribly. Each of the four judges gets a vote, and the viewers get a vote. That's a problem right there - the viewers should wield all the power. The field has already been trimmed to 12. Another problem is that people vote for who should be cut, not who was the best. I like that American Idol involves voting for contestants, not against them. Dream Job should have taken note. But the worst part of the voting is that the voting results are revealed at the end of the show, so voting is open during the show. Guess what that means? The person who goes first gets the most votes. That was the case last night, even though I thought he was in the top two of the evening and none of the judges agreed with the viewers' choice. I don't know how they'll fix that problem, but they should, because it creates an inherent unfairness.

The picks: From round one, here's how I rank the remaining five contestants, best to worst: The college students (Aaron, Mike, Maggie) were tops, followed by Nick and then Quigs, who will be the next to go. Bonus points to Maggie, who revealed her talent as, "I'm really good at beer pong."

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