Fox Sports 1 Has Launched. OK, Now What?
What the world needs now is more highlight shows and talking heads in a studio, right? THR's chief television critic, Tim Goodman, checks in.
You may have heard that a giant media and entertainment conglomerate started a new sports channel and then decided entirely on your own if that was important or not to your daily lives. I'm only here to tell you that the lights did go on over at Fox Sports 1, the cameras remained in focus, there were only a few glitches (unless, for some reason, seeming to leave the cameras on between commercial breaks while the hosts talk is a thing -- and if it's a thing, it's gimmicky).
Less than two days is no timeframe to judge Fox Sports 1. Hell, a couple of its signature shows -- including Fox Football Daily and Crowd Goes Wild with Regis Philbin and a cadre of people who are not as overtly famous has him but perhaps a bit more sporty -- don't even air until Monday. Consider this weekend like the "soft launch" of a restaurant.
"We are here to change the game" is one of the slogans Fox Sports 1 is using, even though it's mostly copying what has come before it, which in turn was a copy of what came before that, so nobody's really changing anything. It's just more ... more ... something. Like the same thing. Because that's also what the world seems to want.
It's unlikely that Fox Sports 1 is going to rival ESPN anytime soon and the new kid is wise enough to essentially be saying that very thing. Taking down the king isn't really the goal here -- it's just to be in the game and make a bunch of money while doing it. There's the corporate family tree of Disney/ABC/ESPN, plus CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network (soon to be NBCSN) and now Fox Sports 1 (and Fox Sports 2, like ESPN2, if you're scoring at home -- a wink there to Ye Olde School version of SportsCenter and an idea that changed the landscape).
OK, so all the big media players have their own massive sports channels to play with and each has at least some slice of the live-sports pie, with Fox Sports 1 kicking things off with UFC battles this weekend, though it will also have some Major League Baseball, college football and basketball, NASCAR and soccer.
Mostly this weekend Fox Sports 1 had the unveiling of its nightly sports highlights show called Fox Sports Live, hosted by the likable Canadian anchor duo of Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole, who did their thing without trying to do their thing with too much look-at-us shenanigans, probably because they know that virtually every anchor duo since Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick have been trying to be Olbermann and Patrick with very mixed results. I like that Fox Sports 1 has brought in Onrait and O'Toole without recycling some weekend anchors from, say, ESPN.
It's very hard to reinvent something that was a copy already, but Fox Sports 1 would likely be called lazy for not trying, so it's trying. The Fox Sports Live show has, well, a lot of segments. You get highlights, then a toss over to some in-studio banter and then back again. And then back and forth again. The panelists change, but the volleying back and forth -- which can get tiresome if what you really want, say, a bunch of highlights in a row -- doesn't. Meaning you might get former MLB player Gabe Kapler sitting down with tennis player Andy Roddick and former NFL players Donovan McNabb and Ephraim Salaam, with Fox Sports 1 host Charissa Thompson moderating. Then back to Onrait and O'Toole, back for another segment, this time with former NBA player Gary Payton subbing in for Kapler, etc.
It's a bit gimmicky. But it's also not against the law to have a ton of segments, highlight packages and panels because -- wait for it -- that is the very definition of what an American sports program looks like. In Europe, they tend to actually show the sports and cut way, way back on the talking heads, but even that more preferable model is giving way to what we do (to death) here in the States.
Ultimately, what is there to say about Fox Sports 1 (and not with the small sample size modifier) other than it looks good in HD, has a lot of bells and whistles and looks pretty much like every other sports channel? Meaning, even though I would never, ever go looking to watch Regis Philbin host Crowd Goes Wild on purpose, neither do I go seeking Around the Horn on ESPN. So, every outlet will have its high and low points. And since Fox Sports 1 nestles close to NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network on my DirecTV channel lineup, no doubt I'll watch it periodically.
But I long ago gave up on ESPN (as have lots of other people, though that hasn't sunk "the sports leader" at all), and have moved on to sport-specific channels for my highlights. I would think most serious sports fans do this already. The MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, tennis and golf, etc., all have their own channels providing far more sport-specific highlights and with greater saturation. The benefit of more content out there on the bandwidth is more opportunity to flee from, say, ESPN. However, the vast majority of American sports fans seem content to go with what they know -- and that's a catch-all outlet like ESPN or maybe now Fox Sports 1. Fans have grown up on sports coverage in this country taking place in a studio with multiple talking heads. (Even the previously named sport-specific channels fall prey to this structure, for the most part.)
Of course, Fox Sports 1 is touting its new nightly live offering this way: "The news and highlights show fans have been waiting for." Have they really? Of course not.
So, expecting some kind of revolution from Fox Sports 1 wasn't even part of the deal in this initial sneak peek. And the new channel didn't let me down by offering up something I'd never seen before. So, welcome to the crowded field, Fox Sports 1. You blend in well.