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ISSUE 117 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/5/2004

The end of the world as we know it

By Ken Foote
Sports Editor

Friday, March 5, 2004

There was always one thing I thought they could never take away. One thing that remained forever sacred and unabashed by popular culture. Over time I came to depend on it, turn to it in my hour of need and even take it for granted.

Now, even the most dependable of outlets has changed forever, with no sign it will return to its past glory. The blame for this atrocity falls squarely on the shoulders of one entity: society.

If you havent figured it out by now, I am talking about the emergence of original entertainment on ESPN.

What started two years ago with the premiere of Season on the Brink, a movie starring Brian Dennehy as infamous Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight, and lives today with Dream Job, a reality show in which 12 people battle to become the next Sports Center anchor, has ruined ESPNs once-simplistic beauty.

Now, you cannot watch Sports Center, Pardon the Interruption, or even a great collegiate basketball game without hearing about a million plugs for Dream Job. The occurrence of plugs even surpasses the combined number of times Dick Vitale uses the words baby, diaper dandy and go Dukies in a game.

Even if you manage to escape in-program plugs for the new reality show, the commercials will berate you into submission as it appears ESPN will not advertise anything else.

It is not ESPNs attempt at making based on a true story movies that has made it impossible to engulf yourself in the soothing atmosphere that only a show entirely dedicated to sports can bring. Rather it is the foray into reality television and the subsequent hysteria that has reduced this pastime to only a memory.

After all, movies can only be shown every so often; Dream Job has an encore about every two hours on one of the ESPN networks, in addition to its substantial commercial time.

After watching Sports Center, I used to come away with substantial knowledge and a few unique phrases that quickly worked their way into my vocabulary. Instead, I am reminded at least twice every commercial break that Mike Williams was cut from Dream Job last week even though everyone knows Quiggs should have been given the boot.

I know this is the Dead Zone, but since when has broadcasting become a sport? I would rather watch arena football, or, god help me, soccer highlights than some guy sitting behind a desk mispronouncing athletes names that even my mother could say accurately.

As for blaming society, my reasoning is simple. The reality TV craze in general has given the good folks in Bristol, Conn. no choice but to try and keep up.

Its hard to keep up in a market where millions of people watch and vote every other day on which person will become Americas next one-hit wonder. People love to hate the brutally honest Brit Simon Cowell, as well as mock the vast majority of applicants who are so deluded that they think they have talent when they really sound like Chris Hovan a few minutes before the kickoff of a Vikings game.

As a result of this societal pressure, ESPN is forced to respond with Tony Kornheiser comparing a contestant to Chris Farley on speed after the finalist rambled about Stanford basketball for two minutes. No offense to Tony K., but his antics will never equal the utterly stinging nature of his "American Idol" counterpart.

Popular culture has embraced the it could be you philosophy of the reality genre and refused to let it die. I was never worried about reality TV and thought it to be a harmless phase. Never did I dream it would infiltrate the sanctity of ESPN, my haven of sports knowledge and enlightenment.

I realize now that there is no stopping reality TV. Even when the phenomenon dies, as all things do, something worse will inevitably take its place, further obscuring the beauty of what I once observed.

If popular culture is any indication, we are months away from the premier of Joe Rodriguez, when 20 beautiful women will vie for the heart of an Alex Rodriguez look-alike they believe is actually the wealthy, newly acquired Yankee third baseman.

Hopefully that will be as entertaining as Survivor Lakers, which feature Kobe and Shaq finally putting aside their difference to team up to kick Zen Buddhist-loving coach Phil Jackson off the Island.

It is difficult coming to terms with the changes in something you love, but, alas, that time has come. I regret having the golden ages pass so early in my life, but I am thankful to have partaken in them while I could.

My biggest regret is that my children will not have the opportunity to see the beauties I have gazed upon with awe over these past years. It is the end of the (sports) world as we know it.

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