MEDIA NOTES ON A FRIDAY
The challenge for TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal in his new career has been tricky: Trying to blend a larger-than-life personality into a studio show that already has another enormous star in Charles Barkley.
So far, the road for Shaq has been bumpy – promising at times, disappointing at others.
O’Neal walks a fine line here. He’s too big a star, too large an ego, to ask him to limit his comments to very short sound bites. But Barkley remains "Inside the NBA's" most engaging and popular personality, and O’Neal has gone overboard by speaking excessively on a few occasions, and acting too much like the class clown at other times. Barkley, in fact, recently kidded Shaq about taking too much of his air time during a halftime segment.
In Shaq's defense, he has developed better chemistry with Barkley and Kenny Smith in recent weeks, and made several valid observations, such as the need for Blake Griffin to drive to the basket more and settle for fewer jump shots.
But at other times, O’Neal has merely spewed remarks that are either obvious or, in some cases, highly questionable. Shaq, for example, said Rajon Rondo “is the best point guard in the game.” To which Barkley had the perfect retort: “Is Derrick Rose dead?”
And O’Neal said “if the Kings play” like they did against Oklahoma City, “they should be in the running for the playoffs.” But they generally don’t. And even if they played better, it’s difficult to envision them challenging for a playoff berth in a conference loaded with teams over .500.
On Thursday, when he was asked by Ernie Johnson to pick a winner in a potential Heat-Bulls playoff series, Shaq refused, saying only that it would be a great series. Gee, thanks for nothing.
Shaq also keeps threatening to set himself on fire, which isn't quite as funny as he seems to think it is. O'Neal loves to laugh at his own jokes, but his humor is more forced than Barkley's.
Our advice to Shaq: Resist any urge to try to be the center of attention. Pick your spots, and understand that Barkley is the main reason viewers tune in. And make sure you consistently deliver real insight, not something most viewers already know.
ESPN’s decision to remove Ron Jaworski from its Monday night booth, and re-assign him to the studio, was ill-conceived for several reasons:
### Jaworski offered smart, sensible analysis, and the lively exchanges with Jon Gruden made for good television.
### Gruden has done nothing to deserve a larger role. As we explained in a column two weeks ago, he made some head-scratching comments that weren’t supported by replay or fact. Too often, he uses the word "great" - which ESPN executives have cautioned him about.
### Jaworski will be an asset on ESPN’s Sunday and Monday pre-game marathons, but both shows are already crowded enough. Does ESPN need seven analysts in the Sunday studio? Isn’t that a fire hazard?
From all indications, Gruden did not push for the move. “I understand there are times players have to put their faith in coaches and other decision makers who are trying to position a team for success, and that’s what I’m doing here,” Gruden said in a statement.
Incidentally, Monday Night Football will have a two-man booth for just the sixth time in its 42-year history.
Despite all the fanfare over the Marlins, they do not appear on ESPN’s partial Sunday night schedule. That’s odd, considering the Washington Nationals will play in two of the 10 games already finalized. But ESPN will carry the Marlins’ April 4 opener against St. Louis (a Wednesday) and might add one Sunday night game: July 1 vs. Philadelphia.
Fox has the Marlins scheduled for three Saturday regional games: May 12 against the Mets and prime time on June 9 and 16 against Tampa. Fox will televise Saturday night games for eight consecutive weeks, beginning May 19.
### CBS' on-line streaming of NCAA Tournament games will remain free, but some fans - including those without TNT, TBS or truTV - will need to pay $3.99 (in total) to watch all NCAA Tournament games on-line, via mobile devices and tablet.