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Couch Slouch: Longing for good old days before TV, talking heads

Couch Slouch believes loudmouths like Stephen A. Smith should be banned from TV. (John Salangsang / AP)
Couch Slouch believes loudmouths like Stephen A. Smith should be banned from TV. (John Salangsang / AP)

As we enter 2018, Couch Slouch wishes it were 1918. Not so we could be at war with the world again, not so Jim Crow laws could rule the South again, not so women couldn’t have the right to vote again; rather, so we could live in a pre-TV universe in which talking heads weren’t talking UNTIL THEIR HEADS EXPLODE.

(Plus, 1918 was a better year to bet the World Series than, say, 1919.)

In 2018, we have reached a talking tipping point. The main cause of global warming, according to a report released last fall by the National Academy of Sciences, is the hot air emanating daily from ESPN and Fox Sports 1 on their cavalcade of can-I-say-something-even-dumber-than-you-just-said embrace-debate shows.

As an old buddy of mine – a disgruntled Verizon cable customer in southern New Jersey – recently told me, “They just won’t shut up.”

Indeed, aren’t we tired of tuning in to hear people talk on TV? They just sit in chairs and babble. It would be like going to a restaurant just to watch the next table eat.

It all began, innocuously enough, when my erstwhile friends and former colleagues Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon debuted “Pardon the Interruption” on ESPN in 2001. This was the nascent kinder, gentler era of talk TV – friendly banter, reasonable discourse.

This led, inexorably and inexecrably, to Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, the Sodom and Gomorrah of sports talk.

We’ll get back to them momentarily.

Rule No. 1 of talk TV: When in doubt, shout.

Even when they are not shouting, their opinions are screaming for attention. These stances are called “hot takes.” You cannot be on talk TV without a hot take; if all you offer are lukewarm takes, you’re headed for ham radio.

(Full disclosure: I once was on talk TV for a Bristol minute before getting booted; interestingly, that’s where they drew the line.)

If it were entertaining, I’d understand, but most of the time it’s just exasperating. The loud mouths assume preposterous positions, then yell about them endlessly.

The other problem – and this has been exacerbated by the Internet – is the call for immediate reaction, instantaneous feedback on all matters large and small.

People, people, people, this is a broken intellectual model.

There is a reason to step back and think about something before speaking – uh, it allows you to think. Call me old school, call me a Socrates/Plato/Aristotle fanboy, but I’ll take considered thought over blurted-out mindless babble every time.

Alas, talk TV is built on a foundation of blurted-out mindless babble.

If FS1 “Speak For Yourself” cohost Jason Whitlock believes half of what he says, he should self-lobotomize during the next show – and ratings will spike!

Speaking of Bayless and Smith, their M.O. is simple: Take a contrarian stand, talk themselves into a corner and nurture that point of view for a minimum three years.

“If “Undisputed” and “First Take” were around 2,000 years ago, Skip would’ve questioned Judas’ choice of appetizers at The Last Supper and Stephen A. would’ve questioned Jesus’ “toughness” at Calvary.

Heck, you can mute Stephen A. and you’ll still hear him.

The pair first partnered at ESPN. But Stephen A. and Skip are so pervasive, they essentially multiplied. They split – like demon amoebae – and one show became two, on different networks; in a desultory, dystopian future, there will be round-the-clock sports TV talk populated by Stephen A. and Skip clones created by some diabolical binary fission.

As it were, amid our ongoing cultural devastation, I am reminded of ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s sage words: “Silence is a source of great strength.”

Ask The Slouch

Q. In the NFL, if a player gets hurt, he is put inside a blue tent on the sidelines. Do you know what they are doing in there? (Don Pollins; Hyattsville, Md.)

A. I don’t know about the rest of the league, but at Rams games, they have “La La Land” on Blu-ray DVD, plus a karaoke machine and a sushi bar.

Q. You’re in Los Angeles and Las Vegas a lot – ever run into O.J. Simpson? (David Cruz; Austin, Tex.)

A. No I haven’t, though – in the “it’s a small world” department – his parole officer is my former bookie.

Q. Remember the time Forest Gump scored that touchdown, ran right out of the stadium, left Tuscaloosa, crossed the United States a few times and finally dropped the ball in Missouri? Whereupon the NCAA, following a late-night call from Roger Goodell, overruled the play and gave the ball to New England? (Keith Steele; Damascus, Md.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!


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