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ESPN's Amateur Hour

So tonight, ESPN's debuting Dream Job, in which 12 contestants compete for a one-year contract to anchor SportsCenter -- presumably the after-hours version watched only by insomniacs, drunkards, and people with money riding on the outcome of the Hawks-Raptors game. Dream Job represents the Worldwide Leader's latest foray into the treacherous waters of reality programming, marking a welcome departure from the network's regular m.o. to schedule shows in which reporters from east of the Mississippi spend half-an-hour screaming at one another, usually about something the Yankees did.

Or at least, it was a welcome departure, until I saw the promo for Dream Job. The 30-second clip featured a steady string of would-be announcers spouting a stream of gibberish -- non-sensical ramblings about jump-jacking taters and rim-rattling slamma jammas and other strings of words barely approximating English. These are, of course, catchphrases -- every good ESPN anchor has one or two (the not-so-good anchors have even more). So it stands to reason that this collection of pseudo-personalities, pretend-sportscasters, and Medici anchors would have prefabricated catchphrases of their own.

All of this put me in mind of a passage from one of the great works of literature:

These days I flip on the set and get an endless parade of people who think they're the next Dan and Keith: Wannabes desperately trying to squeeze a Larry Sanders reference in during a kick save by Ron Tugnutt. All I'm looking for is the Cavs-Pacers final, and what I get is something like Open Mike Night at The Chuckle Hutâ Please. I beg you. Enough.

The author is Bob Costas, and the quoted text comes from his introduction to The Big Show: Inside ESPN's Sports Center by Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, which is on my bookshelf wedged between Remembrance of Things Past and Ulysses, honest. Costas' point, if I'm following the pompous midget's line of reasoning, is that Olbermann and Patrick had a special gift for their particular brand of gab, that when it came to mixing sports highlights with wry commentary, well, that's not something that any old schmuck off the street could do. A decade later, and ESPN has taken a slightly different tack: not only can any old schmuck do this, the Worldwide Leader has decided, but you should want to watch a dozen such schmucks give it the ol' college try.

We are about two years away from a computer program that randomly generates catchphrases and hockey scores anchoring the 11 p.m. SportsCenter, aren't we?

Dream Job airs every Sunday at 7 p.m. PT, with a grand finale slated for March 28. The show is hosted by Stuart Scott, presumably so the contestants won't be intimidated by someone talented.


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