ESPN Pretty Much Just Made Chris Berman A Walmart Greeter
It comes as no surprise that Chris Berman just lost pretty much all of his official duties at ESPN -- the network announcing today that he will no longer be a part of the MLB All-Star Game, the NFL Draft, or any of its game reporting. He'll also be gone from most NFL studio programming, including NFL Countdown, of which he was the host for 31 years.
We knew that back in August, when the network said that Berman's contract -- which expires this month -- would possibly be the end of his 37-year reign. The only question was, would The Worldwide Leader release Berman outright?
Apparently not. The Associated Press:
Berman will make occasional appearances on-air and will also serve as a spokesman for the network at some of its events.
So, supermarket openings? Or better yet, will ESPN begin a new segment in prime time: A Minute With Chris Berman? Berman could sit at his desk in Bristol, a 1979-era typewriter on the desk in front of him, as he dispenses wit and wisdom about the sporting world. That's what CBS did with Andy Rooney when the newsman became too feeble to actually do reporting.
Berman is lucky. ESPN could have cast him into a lifeboat like Captain Bligh, the way that CNN did with Larry King. But in a rare demonstration of empathy for the personality that put it on the map, the network granted him emeritus status, a gold watch and a tribute video (to air Feb. 2).
We all have our memories of Berman, and let's just say that virtually none of them lift him to Vin Scully status. Berman is bombastic, self-absorbed, incredibly vain and prone to all manner of on-air, cornball antics. Virtually everyone who worked closely with him hated him, except for those currently employed at ESPN.
Believe it or not, I have a tiny role in the Berman story. In 2006, writing for Deadspin, I got a tip from a witness that Berman poached a potential date from a guy at a Scottsdale, AZ bar in the mid-1990s. Berman secured the leather-clad woman by arrogantly pointing and saying "You're with me, leather" as he walked out. She followed.
Of course instead of making this work for him, Berman became unhinged. That's why other broadcasters (Tony Kornhesier, Keith Olbermann, and others) needled him with it every chance they could, because they knew it bothered him. A kid at one of his book signings even hit him with the line, and Berman flew into a rage. "You're With Me, Leather" even made it as a line of dialogue on the TV series Las Vegas.
And that's Chris Berman to me -- the Margaret Dumont of every Groucho Marx movie you ever saw. But when that pompous personality began leaking out on air, ESPN knew it was time to walk away.
So long, old friend. Or to phrase that another way, "Excuse me sir, could you point me toward housewares?"
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