Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Uncle Milton Berman

The broadcast team for tonight's ESPN2 baseball telecast was a remarkably mixed bag. Steve Stone, who is easily the most insightful baseball analyst I've ever heard, was teamed with Chris Berman (don't get me started on Jeff Brantley). There was a time when Berman seemed amusing - and on NFL Primetime, when narrating highlights, he still is - but in general I find myself asking "why is this man popular, to say nothing of so handsomely remunerated?" Berman seems to do little more than constantly recycle his catchphrases - does the "back, back, back" schtick really amuse anyone anymore? - and make lame puns and references to rock bands from the 70s and 80s.

Still, it's a little unfair to overlook the fact that Chris Berman actually was a groundbreaking force in his "artistic field," for lack of a better term - before SportsCenter reached its creative zenith with the Big Show starring Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, Berman's bombast, musical references, and nicknames actually were fresh and amusing back in about 1985. He had a lot to do with creating the hip, wisecracking, too-cool-for-school style that Patrick and Olbermann perfected (and that successors like Stuart Scott absolutely wrecked. Olbermann once said something to the effect that by creating a style others misused, he felt like J. Robert Oppenheimer, who famously quoted a poem about becoming "destroyer of worlds" after witnessing the first A-bomb test). To me a good analogy is Milton Berle. People of my generation always wondered exactly how, in the world the man was employed as an entertainer, much less how he was known as Mr. Television back in the '50s. This was, after all, a man whose most famous comedic bit was cross-dressing. Nonetheless, while Milton Berle may not have been the funniest TV star, he was the first big star in the early days of the medium, and while (thankfully) changing tastes make one wonder what the hell people were thinking, it's a little unfair to judge the first big star of the TV age against later standards.

Having said that, Berman really ought to shut the hell up and drop the crap like his Swami football picks and the "nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills" inanity.


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