I want to hate BOB. I tried really, really hard to hate BOB, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Do I love him? No. I’m not even sure I like him. But I don’t hate him. We’ll see where this goes.
I spent more than two weeks watching Breakfast On Broad, partly because I wanted to give it a chance to iron out early cobwebs. Also, there was no way I was getting up at 6 a.m. to watch the full two hours, meaning that this review is based almost entirely on the 7 a.m. – 8 a.m. hour… which I’m sure is quite similar to the one before it.
In truth, I think the concept of yet another morning show – this one focusing on local sports on a network few people ever watch (Comcast Network) – is more flawed than its execution. So I’m going to judge each criteria independently.
Comcast-NBC looooooves morning shows. I have no idea how many they have, but off the top of my head, tomorrow morning I can tune in to the Today Show on NBC, the awful show with Kathy Lee Gifford that comes after it, Squawk Box and Squawk on the Street (with Jim Cramer!) on CNBC (my usual choice), Morning Joe on MSNBC, and now, locally, Breakfast On Broad. I’m sure there are others I’m not even aware of. Most networks do this. Why? Because morning shows, award shows and sports all lend themselves to live viewing, which means people watch commercials. What’s more is that morning shows can repackage interviews and other segments for later broadcasts and online viewing. They’re also a great promotion tool. They’re money-makers, too. So, NBC, I get it. I get why you just had to produce a two-hour(!) morning show focusing solely on local sports and debut it during a time when three of the four teams in the market stink and the other is in the hands of a delightfully chubby madman.
But I’m not sure it’ll work.
The difference between a national variety (Today) or niche (Squawk) show and a local niche show is huge. By virtue of being a local anything (newspaper, TV show or blog), you’re forced to deal with a limited subject matter and audience without proportionally limited production and human costs required to broadcast a show that needs its own set and branding and a dedicated crew that wakes up at God knows what time. In other words, it’s an undertaking, one made even more arduous by the prospect of having to fill two hours with compelling content on a daily basis (I think Breakfast on Broad was on to cat pictures – not athlete cat pictures, mind you… just any cat pictures! – by Day 4). FOX’s Good Day works because some days it’s all news, other days it can be all sports, and most of the time it’s easy-to-digest viral stories that you can watch while brushing your teeth. As much as BOB presents itself as more than just sports, it’s always going to be just sports. I’m assuming most viewers have no interest in what hardened local sports guru Rob Ellis or former NFL player Barrett Brooks has to say about the latest viral meme. I’d rather get Matt Lauer’s take, if that’s what I was looking for.
So that’s problem #1: they’re going to run out of content. Problem #2 is the Comcast Network.
I can’t tell you how many times I inadvertently watched the Today Show, Good Morning America or Good Day because I had the TV tuned to NBC, ABC or FOX the night before. I suspect that’s the case for many people. No one in BOB’s target audience watches CN the night before, unless it’s on one of the rare occasions when the Phillies or Flyers get bumped over to the sister station. Therefore, you’re asking people to make the conscious effort, in their half-consciousness, to flip over to a channel they don’t know to watch the show. Which means BOB has to be better than what viewers are already looking at– probably Lauer, Robin Roberts, Mike Jerrick, or Scott Van Pelt.
So, is it?
Like I said, I really wanted to hate this. It had the potential to be historically bad, especially when you consider that three of the four co-hosts – Ellis, Brooks and Sarah Baicker – have limited on-air (TV) experience. But the show is surprisingly watchable, even though Jillian Mele is the only true TV person in the group.*
*And it shows. She’s very good, and great for this format. I have little doubt that she’ll eventually hold a similar role on a larger, potentially national show.
The production quality isn’t half bad. It’s not the Today Show, but it’s good enough. The graphics and overlays, while maybe slightly dated, are original-ish and clean, without all the NBC-ization that’s on most of CSN’s programming, and present information in a clear and concise way (though they sort of remind me of Al Michaels Hardball III circa 1993). The set is friendly without being cheesy, but looks like a Dicks Sporting Goods inside Ben Franklin’s living room with a table borrowed from Buffalo Wild Wings. Still, it… works. I like that no one wears a suit and tie– I hate it when sports people dress like they’re going to a high-finance meeting. The branded Space Grey iPads are predictable for a hip-ish TV show, but a nice touch. [I noticed that Mele seems to have to switched to a Macbook or some other laptop, which loses her points because it kills the uniformity on-set.]
One issue is that the set is too small. All news sets are smaller in person than they look on TV. But this one looks small on TV. I imagine that Brooks, who’s gigantic, feels like he’s in a dollhouse. They sometimes use the vast expanse that is the CSN studio to their advantage (hey, it’s right next to the Sportsnite desk!), including during one genuinely entertaining, morning TV-ey segment where Mele and Brooks performed a rugby scrum with some rugby players I’ve never heard of. But most of the time it’s just three or four people sitting around that cramped Buffalo Wild Wings high-top which doubles as a ball storage unit talking sports or something tacitly related to sports, which is one of the problems with the show.
Morning TV shows need variety. The audience is sleepy or half paying attention and needs either really compelling content or something shiny, preferably in motion. There’s little motion on BOB. Segments run together often with no visual cue that the topic has moved on from talking about an Instagram post to, say, Chip Kelly’s offseason hijinks. What’s worse are the transitions. Ellis, whose instant sports knowledge recall is second to none, has the unfortunate ability of stopping a genuine yuck-fest dead in its tracks.
Sarah and Jillian will be laughing, perhaps at Brooks’ expense, and then, boom, Ellis will transition into some serious topic like worldwide genocide and leave the rest to fade out their smiles at their own pace. He’s obviously got someone in his ear or a teleprompter telling him to move it along, but there are two hours to fill– let things breathe. I need more Franzke and less McCarthy from Ellis. It was bad the first few days, but it has improved as everyone’s seemingly gotten more comfortable. [As the owner of a perpetual frown and having done a little bit of TV stuff, I know this can be harder than it looks. I’ll feel like I’m laughing inside, but when I watch it back, I’ll realize I looked like I just saw a small baby get kicked by a homeless guy.] For Ellis, part of it is just that he has a serious demeanor, but then again, even frigid Matt Lauer manages to attempt a warm smile every now and then. You can fake it sometimes. This isn’t meant to be a shot at Rob, because he’s often right in there joking around and laughing, but he fades to black way too quickly, and he’s not helped by the fact that there is no wipe (TV term?) or other visual cue to indicate that the subject is changing. It’s jarring. Sometimes I don’t even know what they’re talking about because they transition so damn fast. It’s the morning– I need big graphics and loud noises (I can’t believe I just requested that).
The content itself is fine. Not great, but fine. I love the fact that they have interviews that aren’t just repurposed clips from press conferences and media scrums the night before. So far the guest list has been impressive. Scott O’Neil, in-studio(!) on Tuesday morning, was predictably terrific. Jim Cramer was great. Chase Utley, on Day 1, actually showed signs of being a human when he talked about his son. It’s nice to hear from different voices, on a wide range of sports topics, to start the day.
However, leaning too heavily on live (or recorded) interviews presents a problem. The guests the first week were big names, but can that trend continue that over the long-term? I have no doubt that Comcast called in a few favors for a sit-down with Chase and a few other interviews during Week 1. By Week 2, though, I was watching some guy from a financial services company hawk his business during a segment that was supposed to be about Under Armour (it turned out to be somewhat entertaining… but no one is watching for that guy). Week 3 featured an excruciatingly long, 20-minute or so segment with Derrick Gunn breaking down every. single. Eagles. game. What’s more, many of the interviews are over the phone, on the Broad Street Line, which means viewers get a bunch of camera pans of a still image and wide shots of the set for five minutes or so. You don’t see this as much on the national morning shows because their reach is large enough – providing a benefit to the guest, or just a once-in-a-lifetime experience – that people are willing to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn to go in-studio or appear live via satellite. Being on a morning TV show is… an effort. You have to get up at a time you didn’t know existed, drive to a studio, do a five-minute segment, and then drive back home, usually before 8 a.m. Getting people to come in-studio, or be alive enough to want to appear in front of a camera – even if it is Skype – at 6:30 a.m. is a tough sell… especially for athletes.
All that said, the show is surprisingly watchable. I use the does the wife stop and watch as she’s getting ready for work test, because that’s the target audience– people getting ready for work. She gets up, goes downstairs, takes the dog out, makes coffee, brings me a cup, showers, gets dressed, passing in front of the TV the whole time… all while I lay in bed and read my iPad and watch TV because “I’m working” (husband of the year right here!). If she stops to watch a segment, I consider that a win for the show. And lo and behold, she’s stopped a few times to watch a full BOB segment, although that’s partly because she’s a fan of Mele from her NBC 10 days. But there’s enough variety on the show to hook her in. [I can assure you that she would never stop to watch a Sportsrise segment.] And I truly like the fact that there’s now a show that can quickly get me caught up on the goings on in Philly sports that I may have missed overnight. Instead of 30 minutes, BOB will give you all you need in short bursts, which is a good thing.
But, as with most of the positives in this review, there’s a potential downside to the lightness of the exchanges. The target audience, presumably, is hardcore sports fans. If it’s not, they’re doing it wrong, because anyone who’s not a hardcore sports fan and wants light morning fare will find it elsewhere. So there has to be a delicate balance between lightness and in-depth sports convos. Rob can hold his own. Sarah can with hockey. Brooks can with football. Mele mostly knows her stuff, but she’s not really a sports person. Put them all together and there are few instances where they can combine to have a truly insightful sports conversation that’s above and beyond what you can get on local news broadcasts, and I feel like that could turn off some of the hardcore sports fan audience. Again, I’m not sure there’s a solution – because a morning show should be light – but it’s a potential issue, one that speaks more to the concept of the show than its execution. And that’s the takeaway here: Comcast has done a nice job of producing a watchable morning show, and there appears to be some actual chemistry between Ellis, Mele, Baicker and Brooks, but I’m still not convinced there’s a market for it.