Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is it even possible to create nostalgia in the social media age?

VH1 stuck gold in 2002 with I Love The ‘80s. It was pure, unfiltered nostalgia. I couldn’t get enough of it.

But television tested that. As did the Internet. And newspapers. And websites. And social media. And now I am overloaded with “nostalgia” on a literal daily basis.

I have reached the point where I am nostalgic for nostalgia.

Things reached a new low point when VH1 debuted I Love The 2000s in June 2014 – less than five years after the decade ended and only six years after VH1 already did nostalgia about the 2000s with I Love The New Millennium in 2008.

Think about this – it is 2014 and VH1 has already produced two hours of television of people waxing poetically about 2007, which is a year we can clearly remember in our heads. Unless we’re third-graders.

The nostalgia craze continued over the Independence Day weekend when NatGeo followed up its own series on the 1980’s with one on the 1990’s, the idiotically titled, “Last Great Decade?”

Just a month prior, CNN produced a look back at the Sixties because Lord knows if there’s a decade we haven’t learned enough about yet it’s the 1960’s. I wonder why no one watches CNN these days?

We live in an incredible age of technology and we should never take for granted. But nearly everything that has happened in the past 50 years – up to and including things that have happened in the past few weeks – have been dissected and discussed, ranked and debated, viewed and reviewed.

As events unfold, we are now putting them into historical context immediately in real-time on Twitter. I am guilty of it. Wednesday’s Brazil/Germany World Cup game may be remembered more for what it spawned on social media – the most tweeted about sporting event in history – than what actually took place on the pitch.

Because of this instant analysis, events are never allowed to ruminate in our minds.

Here’s my example – the 2005 Belmont Stakes is the most exciting moment of horse racing I’ve ever seen in my life. At the top of the stretch, Afleet Alex exploded by Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo with a simply breathtaking move. It was absolutely incredible. I watched an hour-long SportsCenter that night just for the 1-minute highlight. I did so the next morning.

And then the moment was gone, left to live only in my head. No Twitter, no Facebook, no way for me to relive or rehash this moment endlessly. In fact, I didn’t even see the race again until three years later when a hero put up an extended version of the race on YouTube. Not only was it an extended version, it was the NBC television coverage, which I had never seen, so I heard Tom Durkin’s absolutely classic call I was unable to hear on-track along with his perfect explanation of the race – “Jeremy Rose asked him to go…and he was going, going, gone.”

This year, I went to see California Chrome go for the Triple Crown. He failed and the entire event unfolded on social media for days afterward on social media. Especially when Chrome’s moronic owner opened his mouth and inserted his foot about the Triple Crown and we all jumped to our conclusions about the series.

More succinctly put, we have lost the benefit of time and perspective in our lives.

If we look west toward Hollywood, we see that stars, well, they never ever go away. In the music industry, the “one hit wonder” is a quaint notion because that “wonder” can parlay that success into a multitude of crappy reality shows or junk like I Love the 2000s.

Our big stars? They become trending topics on a daily basis for nearly anything. How can we ever be nostalgic for Justin Bieber’s Baby when we’re confronted with him every single day? If you don’t go away, nostalgia is impossible.

Our news cycle is currently constituted to churn through everything as quickly as possible, up to and including President Obama. We never enjoy anything anymore. The Lego Movie was released less than five months ago. It was awesome. Do you know anyone still talking about The Lego Movie? It’s always about the next blockbuster, which is opening next Friday, or the Friday after that, or the Friday…

LeBron James is the best basketball player on Earth and the greatest player since Michael Jordan. Do we ever truly take a moment to enjoy him? If we don’t enjoy what he brings to the game now, how are we going to do that in 10 years when VH1 is asking Lil Bow Wow how felt watching Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals?

There’s nothing to be done. Life has changed. We used to aspire to be great. Now we just aspire to be heard.

There is something nostalgic about the great William Nack pouring his heart out in Sports Illustrated about the passing of Secretariat.

There is nothing nostalgic about Colin Cowherd or Skip Bayless trolling people on Twitter.

Maybe it’s not social media that has ruined our ability to create nostalgia – maybe it’s us. 

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Nelson Cruz is proof that baseball’s drug policy is not working

“I’m not even going to comment on him,” Lackey said. “I’ve got nothing to say about him. There are some things that I would like to say, but I’m not going to. You guys forget pretty conveniently about stuff.”

Nelson Cruz is everything that’s wrong with baseball.

Less than a year ago, Cruz was suspended for 50 games as part of the Biogenesis scandal that was more notably attached to Alex Rodriguez.

nelson cruz cheater
His punishment in the 11 months that followed has included an $8 million dollar contract from the Orioles, a fan base and media in Baltimore that doesn’t care and a starting spot in the upcoming MLB All-Star Game.

And Bud Selig is trying to get steroids out of the game?

The quote above from John Lackey made waves but, for me, what stood out was the article about the comments in the Baltimore Sun. Read these last two paragraphs:

When he was suspended, Cruz accepted it and apologized, explaining that he used performance-enhancing drugs for a gastrointestinal infection that went undiagnosed and caused him to lose 40 pounds.

He has put last season in the past, saying often that going through the situation made him a better and more focused player, but Lackey’s comments go to show that some players have a hard time forgetting and forgiving.

This is the disconnect that baseball has to deal with it and they have not. Look at this reporter for the Baltimore Sun – Eduardo Encina – acting as Cruz’s PR person.

Do we – I mean, players, fans, media, everybody – truly want steroids and performance-enhancing drugs out of the game or is it just something we say to make us feel better?

Mike Piazza, arguably the greatest hitting catcher in the history of baseball, is not a Hall of Famer because there are merely hints and rumors that he used performance enhancers. Nelson Cruz got caught red-handed and is an All-Star less than a year later.

It is beyond frustrating to see Cruz and others across all sports come back to the tried and true Andy Pettitte defense. If you forgot, Pettitte was named in the Mitchell Report and instead of pulling a Roger Clemens and lying, he told the truth – he had taken HGH to recover quicker from an elbow injury and he apologized.

Almost immediately, Pettitte escaped the wrath of pitchfork-wielding baseball writers angered that their beloved stars of the 1990s had betrayed them. He admitted what he done, apologized and moved on.

That has now become standard operating procedure for any star looking to get out of any real trouble for cheating the game. Does anyone really believe that Cruz took performance-enhancing drugs for an infection?

Even if that bullshit story is true, why wouldn’t he tell Major League Baseball? The league, as was the case with Robert Mathis’ fertility fiasco, has provisions in its drug policy for medical issues. If Cruz really needed to take performance enhancers for an undiagnosed…wait, what? He used performance enhancers to fight an infection he didn’t know he had?

Here’s the deal – Nelson Cruz is a cheater. He cheated the game of baseball.

If Nelson Cruz was an Olympic athlete, or a Tour de France cyclist, he would still be suspended. In fact, if a sprinter was caught cheating like Cruz, their suspension would not even be 50% complete.

Yet in Major League Baseball, Cruz is an All-Star starter.

The nonsense continued when Orioles manager Buck Showalter defended Cruz with this gem, “There are so many insinuations, quite frankly, about people in every club.”

There are no insinuations about Cruz. He was caught. He was suspended. He is a cheater.

It’s disgusting to me as someone who loves the game of baseball that Nelson Cruz – the year after being suspended for taking performance enhancing drugs – has the third-highest home run total already of his career at the age of 34 before the All-Star game and the majority of people, including 100 percent of Orioles fans, don’t give a shit. It took John Lackey, not exactly anyone’s favorite, speaking up for people to even bring up the topic.

Look at me – I needed a hook to get into this. And it wasn’t even Lackey’s comments, because I’ve been subjected to Cruz highlights all year on the local news. No, it was the backlash from a reporter and the fans that in some twisted way, it was Lackey who was out of line.

We’ve been down this road before when Mike Trout said that steroid offenders should be banned for life after the first offense and the player’s union quickly shut him up.

We need to decide as baseball fans – do we care or not?

If it’s okay that Nelson Cruz cheated the game, then we need to let Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame.

If it’s not okay that Nelson Cruz cheated the game, then we need to demand stricter penalties and an actual deterrent.

The Tour de France and the Olympics were sick of being overrun by cheats and put in penalties that can end careers if you’re caught.

Major League Baseball and the NFL – and let’s never forget the NFL’s disregard for its players – have decided slaps on the wrists are enough.

Enjoy the MLB All-Star Game. The DH for the American League is a cheater. 

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Monday, July 7, 2014

The demise of Undateable shows why comedy is dying on broadcast television

Undateable was not a great show. It might have been. We’ll never know.

This summer, NBC burned off Undateable. The final three episodes aired on July 3. I don’t think you need me to explain why that’s a tough sell for any show.

nbc undateable
The demise of Undateable coincided with memories of one of NBC’s greatest triumphs, which was aided by another of its greatest triumphs. Last week, many celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Seinfeld pilot. Its origin story is one that will almost certainly never happen again.

It aired one episode in the summer of 1989. It then aired four episodes in the summer of 1990. In a different world in a different place, these five episodes attracted 19+ million viewers – cable was a non-existent threat and people always watched broadcast. That was enough to get Seinfeld a real series order and the rest, well, you know the rest.

Seinfeld got those 19 million viewers because it ran in the summer after repeats of Cheers, another show that would have never survived in 2014. Its first season is one of the most incredible pieces of television I have ever seen in my life. There is one episode focusing on Coach’s daughter (watch here) that is as heartbreaking as any drama could ever aspire to be. The show vacillated seamlessly between drama and comedy, literally reinventing the sitcom on the fly.

Cheers, of course, is famous for coming in 74th place out of 77 shows for its freshman season. It jumped up to 35th place in year 2 and then spent the next decade firmly in the Top 10.

I am not comparing Undateable to either of those shows. It was simply a show that showed promise. The two leads had outstanding chemistry from the pilot episode and that came across. The friends were funny. The episodes, even the ones that weren’t top notch, were good for a solid laugh out loud moment or two. The show never overstayed its welcome. I watched all three episodes last Thursday night and I enjoyed it.

Based on the ratings, I may have been the only one.

It infuriates me that a quality show like Undateable would be banished to this summer death slot when so much absolute crap gets a real chance. Undateable isn’t the only comedy to get shoddy treatment this year as many fans of the Fox comedy Enlisted were furious over its Friday night timeslot. Even a potential good-faith effort went away – Enlisted’s finale on a Sunday night went up against US/Portugal and the most-watched soccer game in the history of this country.

Yet, a show like Mixology – one of the worst shows I have ever seen – got a prime slot after Modern Family. The Millers, which criminally misuses Will Arnett and features SO MUCH YELLING, is getting a second season solely because it follows the Big Bang Theory, a show so good the NFL is forcing it away from Thursday nights. You can air 30 minutes of me sipping coffee, furrowing my brow and pounding away at this keyboard in anger and get three seasons if I followed the Big Bang Theory.

sean saves the world
Look at the absolute crust that NBC aired on Thursdays this past fall. Welcome to the Family – a show I never watched – last three weeks. Sean Saves The World & the Michael J. Fox Show crumbled for months. While I understand the appeal of Fox, in what world does Sean Hayes get a leading role in a show with his name in the title in 2014? Who was that targeted too? Who wanted that? Who would even think people wanted that?

While dramas remain strong on broadcast, the comedy on the big four is essentially dead. Compared to a comedy, it’s easy to nail a drama pilot and get people interest quickly. Look at the Blacklist, which essentially only needed to put James Spader out there doing James Spader things and people would sample it after the Voice. It’s not too hard to get people willing to test out a cop procedural or a Scandal.

It’s infinitely harder to get comedy right from day 1 and provide enough ratings to satisfy broadcast television. In fact, in 2014, it has become nearly impossible.

What’s the last great comedy broadcast has produced? Only The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family are certified blockbuster hits and they debuted in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Even NBC’s best comedy – Parks and Recreation – debuted in 2009, is entering its last season and has spent most of its existence as cannon fodder for Sheldon Cooper.

In the past five television seasons, only two shows stand out. New Girl took all the goodwill it had built up and destroyed in its two episodes last fall. Brooklyn Nine-Nine won a Golden Globe and appears to be a breakout hit, but spent most of its first season attached to the sinking rock known as New Girl.

And that’s it.

The problem that now faces broadcast television when it comes to comedy is that they have completely broken the system and the viewers’ trust is now at zero.

Why would I get invested in any show now that isn’t a runaway hit? It’s upsetting to me that I watched the entire season of Undateable, that I really liked it and that it’s going away forever because it’s not delivering Big Bang Theory numbers out of the game.

Look at another show I really liked – Community. As a fan of that show, I have spent infinitely more time thinking about its future than actually enjoying the show on a weekly basis. Even the news that it’s coming back for Yahoo further showed the destruction of comedy. Yahoo made its shrewdest move in forever because the announcement of Community was a giant, made-to-order marketing ploy to let the world know they are in the television business.

They got millions of dollars in free press – what website didn’t report on the news? – for a show that NBC canned.

This fall, Fox, NBC, CBS and ABC will throw out a huge number of new comedies. If they’re lucky, one or two may come back a year from now.

What’s the point anymore? Why do they deserve my attention when I know every cable channel is going to at the very least provide me with a full season no matter the ratings?

The comedy is just about dead on broadcast. And that’s depressing.

Even more depressing is that I will never know how Justin gets over Nicki.

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bryce Harper is right about everything

Washington, D.C. hates superstars.

President Obama rode here on a wave of enthusiasm unseen in 40 years and has been reduced to the “worst” president in 70.

bryce harper running
Alexander Ovechkin is the best goal scorer on the planet yet is the reason why the Capitals haven’t had success in the playoffs.

RG3 revived the Skins and single-handedly led them to the playoffs. A year later, he was the object of scorn for coming back too soon from an injury. There were people in this city who wanted Kirk Cousins to play quarterback.

Re-read that last sentence and you will understand the almost maniacal aversion the fans and media in this city have to hero worship. Kirk Cousins! Over RG3! The Skins tried to trade Cousins all offseason for a late-round draft pick and found no takers. They were trying to give Cousins away and the entire league said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Yet no one in the District – politician, athlete or otherwise – receives more unfair blame than Bryce Harper.
The thing about Harper, which endears him to fans and drives old white guys crazy, is that he is not about playing baseball “the right way,” but instead playing baseball “his way.”

He is 21 years old. He is the younger position player All-Star in the history of baseball. He already has 43 home runs. What were you doing during your 21st year on the planet? I was a cub reporter for the Willimantic Chronicle trying to figure out life and making many, many bad decisions. Bryce Harper is a two-time All-Star.

The media in D.C., of course, hates this. Imagine if Harper was playing in Los Angeles or New York or Boston, where the media and fans engage in hero worship on a daily basis? He would be a God amongst men. Instead, he ended up in the only American city where a prodigy would be vilified.

It reached a new high – or new low – when Harper returned from the Disabled List and walked right into a trap.

With Harper’s return, the Nationals have 9 everyday position players for 8 spots. There is one guy who will not play every day now with Harper in the lineup. When everyone is healthy, it comes down to two guys – Denard Span in CF and Danny Espinosa at 2B – one of whom will have to sit.

Harper was asked what his lineup would be. Remember, regardless of how Harper answered this question, he would have theoretically insulted Span or Espinosa. He can’t put both in the lineup. Even if Harper gave a no comment, that would be insinuating Espinosa wasn’t good enough to play every day. Here’s his answer:

“I think [Zimmerman] should be playing left. Rendon’s a good third baseman. He should be playing third. We’ve got one of the best second basemen in the league in Danny Espinosa,” said Harper. “Of course, we want the best-hitting lineup in there. [But] I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that would be good for this team. I think that should be what’s happening.”

To me, that seems like a pretty reasoned and well-thought out answer, right?

Wrong!

Here’s a sample of the responses from the Washington Post in the past three days:
It’s nauseating, right? Harper was asked a question, gave an honest answer and has been absolutely slaughtered for it. Everyone has taken his answer has a shot at Denard Span when Harper didn’t say one word, negative or otherwise, about Span. The media took the slight and run the story into the ground.

Yet, here’s the craziest part – Bryce Harper is right.

You know, I hate to do this, but I need to: BRYCE HARPER IS RIGHT!

On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of sitting in right field at Nationals Sauna to watch the Nats sweep the Rockies. Up 1 in the ninth inning, manager Matt Williams sat 3B Ryan Zimmerman, moved Anthony Rendon from 2B to 3B and inserted Danny Espinosa at 2B. With the game on the line, Matt Williams put out the infield that Bryce Harper was vilified for.

Maybe Matt Williams needs to stop acting like he’s 12?

I know a lot of people, myself included, like Denard Span. He’s a good player. He was born in DC. He’s made some big plays. But there is a simple truth the Nationals need to accept and they need to do so before the playoffs.
denard span out
They have one big issue. And that’s issue is Denard Span batting lead-off.

The pitching is there. The bullpen is solid. When everyone is healthy, the lineup is stacked and strong defensively. There is no doubt with Span playing every day; the Nationals will make the playoffs relatively easily.

But the Nationals are good enough to win the World Series. This is why they shut down Strasburg. It is for this year. If they stay healthy through October, they should be the favorites to win the National League pennant.

World Series champions do not have leadoff hitters who bat .266 or have an OBP of .316. In terms of getting on-base Span is the worst in the National League right now. I truly do not understand how Bryce Harper is receiving the brunt of criticism for suggesting that maybe the Nationals should not start the worst leadoff hitter in the league.

By no means should you feel sorry for Bryce Harper because everyone in the Nationals organization and everyone that goes to Nationals Park understand he’s the real deal. Sorry, Mark DeRosa, but Harper is a superstar – not one in the making.

Everything great about Bryce can be summed up in the 4th inning of Wednesday’s night game. Jayson Werth had hit a two-run home run to cut the Rockies lead to 3-2. Then LaRoche struck out and Zimmerman flew out to right. It felt like the inning was about to be over, but no one went to the bathroom.

Harper hit a bloop single to left. Except he left the batter’s box like he was shot out of a cannon and was rounding second before the ball was back in the field. He took third on a wild pitch. He scored easily on an Ian Desmond single. He made that run happen. It was the superstar play of the night – the type of play only a few in baseball make.

Bryce Harper is right, about everything. 

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Soccer has been mainstream for much longer than two weeks

Everyone under the age of 35 in America has played soccer.

So why is it a surprise that the sport is popular?

Television executives, and soccer aficionados, still have reason to be ecstatic. So what is causing the jump? First, you must give ESPN its due. The network poured more money into its World Cup marketing campaign…than it had for any other single event in the network's history. "For the casual sports fan, ESPN is a gauge of what's important," says Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "And if you have arguably the number one sports brand telling you this is important, the numbers are going to trend in a higher direction."

That was Time Magazine discussing the incredible ratings of the World Cup. The last World Cup. That hasn’t stopped nearly every newspaper and website in this country to write some variation of the “Is soccer going mainstream?” article.

tim howard 2014These discussions obscure the fact that soccer has been mainstream in the United States for the past three decades.

If you’re under 35, think about your childhood. You certainly played soccer, whether it was for a team or in gym class. Soccer is the easiest sport to start playing. All you need is a ball and something to mark off goals. That’s it.

While the sport is far more complex and intricate than simply kicking the ball around – that’s all it is when your six years old. It’s the perfect starter sport. There isn’t a mountain of rules like in baseball. You don’t need to change the dimensions like in basketball. It’s just grass and a ball.

I remember as a child in elementary school playing for a town soccer team in eastern Connecticut and showing up to tournaments where there would be dozens of games going on at the same time – hundreds upon hundreds of children playing soccer and their families watching. Does it get any more mainstream than that? Does it get any more American than that?

In a Wall Street Journal article on the decline of organized youth sports, it found that close to 7 million kids were on organized soccer teams. That figure was twice as much as football, a million more than baseball and neck and neck with basketball.

The “mainstream” narrative around soccer that pops up every four years around the World Cup ignores, well, just about everything. The success of this World Cup has been impressive, but the 1994 World Cup Final and the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final held viewership records for nearly two decades. The popularity of soccer is not a new phenomenon – even the success of the U.S. Men’s National Team is not that new, considering it made the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002.

The “America doesn’t like soccer” meme has been driven by a generation of baby boomers and their parents who held disdain for the sport. One of the more interesting theories floated about this came from George Vescey, who chronicled his World Cup coverage in a new book.

From a Grantland article on Vescey and the book:

Anti-soccer sentiment among his generation, the children of World War II, wasn’t because they didn’t know Europe. It was because they knew Europe too well: “A fear of mobs and stomping boots in the generation that was young during World War II and the Holocaust and the Cold War and nuclear proliferation.”

Today’s generation – people like myself, at age 32, and younger – are two generations removed from World War II. We have little, if any, memories of the Cold War or hating everything foreign, like fear mongers such as Ann Coulter want us to. There is nothing about the European or South American-style of the sport that is off-putting to us.

The World Cup ratings were a perfect storm of American success but should not have been a surprise. We have already seen the success of soccer in America. The Premier League has being doing fantastic ratings as part of NBCSN’s gamble on European sports. Fox has leveraged the Champions League to produce some of the best Fox Sports 1 ratings in its short history.

seattle sounders crowd
Likewise, Major League Soccer has finally showed signs of becoming a major American sport. The league just signed a landmark deal with ESPN and Fox for its television rights. It’s not in the vicinity of other major sports, but it has graduated from its niche sport status.

The growth of MLS and the explosion of club football on American television is why the rising tide of soccer has finally hit the shores of the mainstream media.

For kids of the 1980’s, soccer was not a viable option for a professional sporting career. If you were an exceptional athlete, unless you loved soccer with an unhealthy devotion, there were better options. You could not play soccer professionally in the United States. Top European leagues ignored U.S. talent. Unless you were one of the very, very best and competing for a National Team spot, soccer was not a smart pursuit.

Likewise, it was exceedingly difficult to be a soccer fan in the United States and watch soccer until recently. Even though the Fox Soccer Channel existed for a decade, it only reached nationwide clearance in its last couple of years before Fox killed it. NBCSN didn’t exist five years ago. Bein Sport – another new edition – has only been available in the United States for a couple of years, giving soccer nuts the ability to watch La Liga and Ligue 1 every week. Fox Sports recently acquired the rights to the Bundesliga.

Now, the game has changed.

If you want to play the game, you now have options domestically. If you want to watch the game, you now have options on your cable box.

Soccer has been mainstream for years. The mainstream media finally figured it out. 

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