Today Couch Slouch launches a two-part investigative series, "Sports on Television in America: Wow!" Funding for this project provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the California Wellness Foundation, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and my parents, who paid for 51/2 years of tuition and parking at the University of MarylandI was talking to Toni, a.k.a. She Is The One (And Then Some), the other night - we try to chat once or twice a month to keep the marriage fresh - and I told her how wrong I was about something basic to my professional life:About 10 years ago, I figured sports on television had reached a tipping point, and there was absolutely positively no way the planet Earth could sustain more fun-and-games programming.Well, some people call TV "the idiot box," and I sit on my sofa at this very moment a certified idiot.
The expansion of ESPN alone is probably responsible for two-thirds of climate change since 1979.Here's a roll call of sports cable networks available along our shores these days, provided largely from perusing my DirecTV* channel guide:(*I recently extricated myself from the clutches of Time Warner Cable - the worst non-Taliban cable provider in recorded history - and rejoined DirecTV. But because of an unresolved circumstance on a previous DirecTV account, it took me 17 calls - SEVENTEEN, many in the 30-minute range - to set up my new subscription. At one point, I considered moving to 1980s Russia and being satisfied with three state-run channels and a healthy dose of Dostoyevsky.)Of course, we start with the usual suspects from the ESPN family of networks; frankly, it appears to me the boys in Bristol have had a lot of out-of-wedlock cable progeny - ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Classic. Then there are the ESPN wannabes - Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, CBS Sports Network and NBCSN, which is short for NBC Sports Network, or A Network in Search of Programming, Advertisers and Viewers ASAP.Then there's NFL Network, NBA TV, the MLB Network and the NHL Network.(Yes, that's me at my weekly Agnostics Anonymous meeting, praying that I don't live long enough to see the MLS Network.)
Then there's Golf Channel, the Tennis Channel and, yes, the Outdoor Channel.(I tried to TiVo "Bear Archery Bowhunting" last Monday and my DVRs staged an intervention on my behalf.)Then there's horse racing's TVG Network, the WWE Network, Universal Sports and GOL TV. Then there are the college entities - the Big Ten Network, the Pac-12 Network and Longhorn Network, plus ESPNU and Fox College Sports.Even our friends at Al Jazeera - the Qatari-based broadcaster - are heavily into sports. Al Jazeera Sports shows a lot of soccer to U.S. audiences, and Al Jazeera owns beIN Sport, another soccer-heavy outlet that also telecasts the Superbike World Championship and the World Men's Handball Championship.Now, in terms of fundamental human rights, I don't believe any soul should be denied watching the Superbike World Championship if that's what he or she desires. I'm just pointing out that the cultural floodgates are wide open, and pouring through them is an unconscionable, inconceivable bevy of sports programming and Sony 52-inch flat screens.
Naturally, money fuels this all-consuming madness.Speaking of which, I am reminded of our retail madness as we celebrate Thanksgiving. This once untouchable family gathering has descended into a rush to conspicuous consumption, as Walmart, Kmart, Target, Best Buy, JC Penney and Macy's all open their doors on the holiday.Of course, those of us staying at home give thanks that we can tune in to NFL games from noon to midnight. Embarrassingly, I will do just that.Our indefatigable family dog Sapphire watches a lot of this stuff by my side. But sometimes she looks at me as if to say, "Another game? C'mon, man. Let's go outside, smell the roses and pee!"She's got a point.Ask The Slouch
Q. On the last play of "Monday Night Football," the referee said the ball was "uncatchable." Wasn't it uncatchable because Rob Gronkowski was getting bear-hugged and all but French-kissed by the defender? (Michael Rizzo; Albany, N.Y.)A. I just reviewed the video from the Patriots-Panthers game and remain firmly convinced that Tom Brady fumbled on Jan. 19, 2002 vs. the Raiders.Q. Since I reserve four to five of my 20 free article views each month to read your column, does not make me your No. 1 e-fan? (Mark Ernest; Tracys Landing, Md.)A. There's a fine line between e-fan and e-stalker, sir. Back off.Q. Am I correct to assume you were bullied while playing Pop Warner football? (Jeff Freed; Tacoma, Wash.)A. Actually, I bullied myself to cut out the middleman.Q. If NASCAR drivers aren't considered athletes, would that also rule out the two middle guys on a four-man bobsled team? (Jeff Maess; Indianapolis)A. Pay the man, Shirley.You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!