By Tom Hoffarth
In a post-Grammys/pre-Oscars prime-time Sunday night TV slot, the NBA All-Star game embraces all the trappings of self-congratulatory excess.
As much as we want to keep encouraging it, we’re doomed to soon reach a point of no returns.
Aside from the puffed-up exhibition game, this was just the latest edition of the LeBron Choice Awards. Because TNT still apparently knows its formula for drama.
Sporting a Lakers logo across his chest for the first time in this exercise, LeBron James took the court with the teammates he had picked during a televised draft. He got to dress them in black. Then, he demanded they not play defense, just defend his honor and consider joining him in L.A. ASAP.
Like the Grammys, the All-Star game had musical interludes (with necessary audio cuts). Like the Oscars, there could have been more controversy about who didn’t get enough live TV time. Unlike the Super Bowl, it promised scoring. And there was more preening than the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Still, we’d have liked to see TNT sideliner Kristen Ledlow coax more barks from players and fewer clichés.
Here’s how we finished this up in Monday’s L.A. Times for the weekly sports media column …
Category Archives: Featured
By Tom Hoffarth
By Tom Hoffarth
We had the pleasure of reminiscing with Tony Petitti and Rob McGlarry about the first 10 years of the MLB Network’s existence — it launched on Jan. 1, 2009, with a record 50 million homes that could access it. The result is a post this week at The Hollywood Reporter.
There was no crying in their baseball remembrances. Only a lot of laughs and memories of the many highs that came from becoming the fourth of the four major sports leagues to put up their own 24/7 cable channel.
Petitti was the first MLB Net president and CEO, and McGlarry was the Senior VP of Programming and Business Affairs. Eventually, Petitti turned the reins over to McGlarry in late 2014, when Petitti joined the MLB Commissioner’s Office.
One of the interesting sidebars to the MLB Network launch, and its first year on the air, was brought up again in a one-hour special that the net has been airing in celebration of its anniversary.
Studio analysts Harold Reynolds, Al Leiter, Dan Pleasac and Sean Casey talk about how the MLB Network carried live the 2009 MLB Draft — but only one potential draftee showed up. And as the picks were taking place … No. 10, 15, 20 … this high school player still wasn’t picked.
Finally, with the 25th choice of the first round, the Angels grabbed Mike Trout. And with that, the MLB Network was grateful he was not only there, but what a story it holds up to be 10 years later.
In addition to the Q&A posted in THR, we have more to add here:
For Tony: All the time you had put in at ABC, NBC and just coming over from CBS Sports to run this. Why was it worth making that leap of faith at the time?
Petitti: It was a really tough decision. I loved CBS. I had a great relationship there and I loved the responsibilities I had there on the production and programming and business side of it. You work on big shows that has a halo effect on how you think about things. So giving that up was not easy but for me personally, this opportunity for this startup with a culmination of all the things I had done in my career, even going back to a general manager of Channel 2 in New York. There was no guarantee that I’d do a great job, but if there was ever a place to take some risk with this skill set … There were people working close with me who told me, across the board, there’s nothing like this you’ll ever do with a start-up especially at this level with 50 million people on Day 1. Even people like Dick Ebersol and Dennis Swanson, whose opinions I really value, their attitude and advice about this was about how exciting it is to build something from scratch with that comradery. I’m equally as proud to this day the way the people at MLB Network work together. I’ve been blessed to work at other places, and I was so relieved to see how everyone there is very supportive, they work hard and they care. You can’t ask for anything better than that as a manager
For Rob: The business model of how MLB Net was getting into more homes right away and offering the MLB Extra Inning package as part of distribution? You got major cable and satellite deals to buy in as well. Was that something you learned?
McGlarry: I can’t speak for the other networks but trying to use the out of market packages as a lever with the distributors had not been done before. We were focused on broad distribution, it’s no secret there was a a fair amount of controversy in 2007 when we did initial deal for something that was two years away from launching. Some who couldn’t get out of market packages weren’t happy about it, and then I was in Washington for as senate hearing by Sen. Kerry about it, as there was a war going on, which made it interesting. But the great thing we reached agreement with Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and many other large operators, Cablevision and Charter, and we were already on with DirecTV so we knew we’d have the 50 million homes, and knowing that distribution allowed us freedom and resources to get the network that baseball could be proud of.
Somewhere in this whole MLB Network existence, there was a merger with the NHL Network, sharing resources. How did that puzzle fit together?
McGlarry: That was in the first year I was here. Someone asked, ‘What do you think of doing the NHL Network too?’ I thought they were joking. No they were serious. Can you do it the start of the season? For us as a business, it happened at the right time when I think some networks were having to cut back and we were more efficient to operate two networks. It was also efficient from a creative perspective. It provided a nice outlet for some people here. We learned from baseball and hockey, some work and some don’t, and it’s been a very productive relationship with the league and great for the people here and all our business partners. It turns out, the seasons align themselves incredibly well, too. I’m sure they weren’t thinking about that, but if the regular seasons overlap, it’s only about a week (in April). Then comes the hockey playoffs. We can also have fun with it at the MLB Network. Our Studio 42 has the replica of a baseball field, but right away we had a Stadium Series game at Coors Field (in Denver). So we got a hockey rink and put it down in the middle of Studio 42.
The innovation of the Ballpark Cam gave you access to everything that was going on at a stadium, before and after a game in particular, for batting practice, for live interviews. How did that come about?
Petitti: When I was at CBS Sports, Ken Aagaard was there as head of operations and allowed to do some freelance projects. One of them was to help the MLB Network. So he’d be in his office down the hall from me, and we’d built this great friendship over the years, working in control rooms together. He would be telling me he had a meeting to take with the MLB Network, and I’d be getting on him: ‘C’mon, we’ve got the NFL playoffs right now, and March Madness is coming, and you’re worried about this?’ And all that time, I never told him I’m thinking about going there, too. I finally get hired, and I can tell him, and then we’re working on this Ballpark Cam project now. It was so much fun. Of all things that were contributed as ideas for the MLB Network, the Ballpark Cam was the best thing. We have two live cameras in every ballpark and we control remotely, in high def, it pans and tilts. One near a dugout and the other in center field. We could do interviews from every game without worry about booking facilities, getting an uplink, finding someone to do the interview. There were hours of content just generated from watching batting practice.
Even 10 years later, this is the game-changing technology. If you think about it, NFL players live at their practice facility and have days off before their games. But with baseball, the players basically live at the park, so you have to connect with them there. And no matter who the player was, if they gave us their time, we put them on the air. You want them to know that when they had their big moment, we got it on air. Every player felt welcomed. All became the Ballpark Cam gave us that freedom. I can’t imagine the network without it now.
The talent that it takes to fill 24/7 every week must have been a challenge as well. You’ve got nearly 50 on-air people now. But the first hire was Bob Costas — in a deal that still allowed him to work at NBC and HBO. Having Costas there, at the right place at the right time from the first show, had to be a tremendous anchor to resonate for the channel — even winning a Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Sports Personality/Studio Host that first year in 2009.
Petitti: It was a real passion play for Bob. He not only got us the quality programming from the start, but he also helped book talent. He made phone calls to get people to come on with us. There was a huge value in that. It all happened because, as I’m winding down at CBS (in May, 2008), Barry Frank (Costas’ agent) called to ask if I had thought about having Bob for this MLB Network. I was like, ‘Wow, he wants to work for us? Really?’ You didn’t see a lot of that (ability to share talent) with league-owned networks. Dick Ebersol was great in allowing Bob to do stuff with us (as Costas was still employed at NBC). Dick was also great in recommending Matt Vasgersian to work for us. It’s not about pride of authorship as all these ideas and offers start coming to you from all over the place.
Every day, during the season, and in the off season, you wake up to maybe four or five story lines that are important in the game. The challenge of a 24/7 network is to present those story lines with different perspectives so you’re not repetitious. Not everything is analytical like we do on “MLB Tonight.” A show Brian Kenny does comes from another perspective. There’s Chris Russo, who talks like a really educated fan. He may not be for everybody, but he’s doing it in a voice some people really like. Analysts from all different perspectives. That’s the trick of all this, right? We don’t chase a big story when it breaks, we all have to stay in our lanes. We have to bring different voices to it. That becomes the ultimate challenge and the test of what makes you good or not.
When Ken Burns created the “Baseball” historical documentary in 1994, it was structured so that almost every episode covered a 10-year period in the game’s progression. In 2010, he added the “Tenth Inning” that would cover the 1994 strike through the 2009 season. That’s kind of an interesting cutoff — in 2009, the MLB Network launches. If Burns ever decides to do another chapter — call it the “Eleventh Inning” — it would have to pick up at 2009, which is the birth of the MLB Network, and all that it contributed to the game’s history. Agree?
Petitti: In that period, and even earlier, there’s also the creation of MLB.com, which set the tone of creating a world-class original digital content company, and then soon came the launching a network that’s highly regarded and provided baseball fans with content they love. The network has been in every big moment since then. Even if someone else is covering the World Series, the MLB Network is there three or four hours before and the same amount of time after each game. It’s around everything that matters, with enthusiasm and passion and great knowledge. It really is a huge part of the evolution of the game.
A SIGN OF THE (L.A.) TIMES: A RALPH LAWLER BASKETBALL HALL OF FAME CAMPAIGN? FASTEN YOUR … YOU KNOW THE REST
By Tom Hoffarth
A few more points to consider after the posting of our L.A. Times media piece that makes a case for Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler to be considered for the Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019 — which would be a classy way to top off Lawler’s 40-year run with the team after his retirement this summer:
== As we pointed out, there are some not-so-obvious hurdles that need to be cleared for anyone to be considered for this lifetime achievement award. One is how to stand out from a broad range of candidates — those who’ve worked in the NBA and college, play-by-play and color, sideline reporters, local and national. The other is there isn’t a lot known about who is on the committee that ultimately decides who gets nominated and voted upon.
David J. Halberstam, a longtime sports media observer and historian, and one of the voters for the Baseball Hall of Fames’ annual broadcaster award, said he has discussions recently with John Doleva, the organization’s president and CEO, about how to frame this award so the public might be more aware of what it represents.
By Tom Hoffarth
Here’s an illustration of Bill Walton from the esteemed Jim Thompson, who drew it up to help set the tone for a piece we did on the former UCLA star and broadcaster in 2016 entitled “Bill Walton’s long, strange trip inside his reconstructed soul”
It was right about the time his new book, “Back From The Dead” came out — if you’re wise you’ll get the audio version read by the author. He revealed how he almost ended everything because the pain in his back was too much to bear.
You see him now with photos of outstretched arms, embracing the world … like above.
“It’s because I can now do that,” he said then. “For so many years, I couldn’t even lift my arms because my spine was so bad. It is a very celebratory pose that people use when things are going great. And right now I’ve never been better or busier. Or this healthy since I was 13 years old. Both ankles are fused. Got a new knee. A new spine. I never thought I would be pain free. I’m lucky.”
We are lucky to have a pipeline into Walton’s world, and we reconnected for a story about how, whenever he’s on an ESPN or Pac-12 Network telecast, the social media world embraces him, often in very opposite ways.
Some call him insufferable.
We align with those who refer to him as a “national treasure” and example of “a sonic voyage … of cosmic exploration.”
As we talked to Walton recently, he was in the passenger seat of his car with his wife, Lori, doing the driving. We asked if he was aware of the volatile social media debate he sparks every time he’s on TV.
“Lori, do I pay attention to social media?” he asked.
Probably not a good time to ask. As they were driving from Death Valley to Westwood on Interstate 15, a dust storm was amidst and visibility was limited.
After a long pause, Bill came back on the line: “Lori says no!”
He seemed to be howling in concert with the winds whipping outside his window.
“The world we live in now .. for so long, we have had dreams, and worked hard and tried to be intelligent about them,” he continued. “Today, if you have a thought, in literally the shortest period of time, that nano second, it becomes reality and part of a larger collaborative community. I take my responsibility very serious and take pride in it.”
We could fill a whole new post with just the outtakes from that discussion. But for now, here’s the piece we had in the L.A. Times about Walton’s social media experience that we swear most times he’s just messing with us …
UPDATE 12.15.18: Five letters to the editors included in the Saturday edition of the L.A. Times as it relates to this, linked here ….
The Drill L.A. Morning Briefing podcast: Where to find it, how to enjoy it, what you can do to help us …
Let us help you help us …
The latest revival of the Drill L.A. Morning Briefing podcast, after some retooling and a focus on how to make this something you can take and enjoy on your morning drive to work, is best found on the GameTakes.com app.
It is also available online at GameTakes.com, if you just search and find us.
We started this months ago with the idea of giving you a morning briefing on what happened the night before in L.A. sports, what’s ahead, and giving it all some context from two sportswriters with L.A. roots.
The plan is always to revive the YouTube.com vodcast version of the show as well with upcoming special guests.
We appreciate your feedback on what we’re doing, what you like to hear, and where we can take this. So perhaps put this back on your radar:
The Dec. 3 Monday edition is here.
The Dec. 4 Tuesday edition is here.
The Dec. 5 Wednesday edition is here.
The Dec. 6 Thursday edition is here.
The Dec. 7 Friday edition is here.
More to come ….
What if we told you there was a pro football league that existed more than 30 years ago, contrived as a complimentary spring exercise to the NFL’s fall season, but then one owner in particular based in New York couldn’t help himself, drove it off the cliff at the expense of his supposed business partners, and later would be doing the same things in the White House.
We could also tell you this particular story was already an ESPN original “30 For 30” doc called “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL.”
Nevertheless, we booked Jeff Pearlman on TheDrillLA.com vodcast based on his book: “Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL.”
Crazy, sure. It’s been discussed on shows as diverse as NPR to ESPN’s “Outside The Lines”. From NESN to the Peter King podcast ...
From FS1’s Colin Cowherd to DirecTV Audience Network show host Rick Eisen. Plus, it has been featured in Forbes and The Christian Science Monitor, and The Associated Press Sports podcast.
We have a different spin.
A true spiral.
One inspired by a left-handed Mormon who made the Los Angeles Express something we still look fondly back on.
The Southern California-based Pearlman, the former Sports Illustrated writer now working for The Athletic who did the incredible Lakers’ book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s“ in 2014, carves out some time here to spend with us.
More context: Chris Dufresne of TMG Media Sports.com, which focuses on college football coverage, was the Los Angeles Times beat writer for the L.A. Express starting with their 1982 birth up until the final courtroom drama that ended with a jury agreeing that the NFL did in fact monopolize pro football, but the USFL was owed just one dollar in damages.
Add to this: Tom Hoffarth covered the Express for several years as well for the South Bay Daily Breeze.
And … Steve Lowery and Steve Vanderpool were part of the Express public relations team and knew all the ins and outs of what went on in the offices.
They got the band back together.
Here is an hour of discussion that Pearlman said in a parting Twitter DM that “was preposterously fun” to do … hope he has the same feeling after watching it here (and where in the world is Bob Rose these days?):
With no introduction needed — aside from that he’s the co-host of KLAC’s “Petros & Money Show,” a college football analyst at Fox Sports, and the former captain of the worst team in USC football history (before this season) — Petros Papadakis (@Theoldp) found an hour to squeeze in with us between yoga, a hair cut, prepping for UCLA-Fresno State and taking his son Fletcher to Lowe’s to look at the latest washing machines. We are grateful.
For this one, Steve Lowery (@stevelowery12), Tom Hoffarth (@tomhoffarth) and producer Jon McKelvey (@McKLVTheJon) try to keep up as we ask about: The soft L.A. sports media, his favorite curse word, what profession he’d be doing if not for this, his favorite literary figures, dealing with people who view him as too hard/too soft on USC, and why he feels it’s important to keep the art of dialogue alive (and doing so on the Clay Travis Show).
It was worth the wait to have him come by the Carson studio: