Over the past few days, we have consumed copious amounts of Olympic sports via a range of telecasts on the NBC family of networks, and as a result have been exposed to near-toxic levels of NBC daytime anchorman Jim Lampley. This in turn raised the question of how exactly Lampley, a man whose on-air persona consists of a ratio of three parts smugness to one part haircut, landed such a coveted anchor slot. An investigation was clearly in order.
Based on what we've seen, each NBC sub-network has a different anchor for each daily broadcast segment, with (figuratively) big guns like Bob Costas being wheeled out only for prime time coverage on the mother network. With that in mind, it seems worthwhile to work through a compare-and-contrast of the anchors, broken down by network, to see what Lampley's peer group looks like.
MSNBC: Melissa Stark
Stark is probably best known as the proto-Erin Andrews, a sports sideline reporter who both looks good on camera and is capable of holding multiple, independent thoughts in her head at any one given time. Neither skill should be undersold--after all, Eric Dickerson failed signally at both.
Stark is now at MSNBC doing general reporting. Her current Olympics work has been typical of her past sports work: solid and professional, if just the slightest bit dull. Still, Stark has gotten her facts and pronounciations largely right, and has consistently under- rather than over-played the emotional content of stories. For example, she was the only NBC anchor who did not call for the destruction or occupation of Lyon following the men's 4X100 meter freestyle relay the other day, a welcome and notably un-Lampleyian take on the story.
Of course, perhaps as a result of this, Stark has been relegated to America's third-most popular cable news network. Still, on a viewer-annoyance scale of 1 Jim Lampley to 5 Jim Lampleys, Stark receives a winningly low 2 Lampleys.
CNBC: Teddy Atlas & Friends
CNBC's coverage is given over entirely to boxing, apparently on the theory that financial analysis is closely linked to the violent imposition of brain trauma. At any regard, CNBC's single-event focus and total lack of sporting pedigree has led to one of the biggest upsets in broadcast history: the anchorless sports broadcast.
Yep, it's just a play-by-play guy, a sideline reporter, and color man Teddy Atlas out there running the entire show. While this might sound like a good thing, the lack of an anchor quickly points up exactly how much broadcast time a skillful anchor can entertainingly waste between televised events. In the absence of such an anchor, we're left with a series of endless, droning fight "previews" by Atlas, all of which sound something like this:
P-B-P Guy: So, Teddy, tell us about today's upcoming fight between U.S. fighter Cardigan Lopez-Wong and the newcomer from Turkmenistan.
Teddy Atlas: Well, the key here is for Lopez to punch the Turkmeni fighter in the face a lot. It is crucial that Lopez punch the Turkmeni in the face more than the Turkmeni punches him in the face. However, Lopez's task will be made more difficult by the Turkmeni trying to stop Lopez from punching him in the face, while also trying to punch Lopez in the face. Should be an interesting fight.
[CUT TO beer commercial]
This analysis is riveting after its fashion, but doesn't show much in the way of anchor skills. Give Atlas a 4 on the Lampley scale.
USA: Matt Vasgersian
We're sorry, but to us this guy will forever be the "Armenian Teen Heartthrob", as Vasgersian was christened by Bill Dwyer in those 989 Sports videogame commercials back in the day. Nothing else Vasgersian has done or will ever do will top that nickname. His Olympic performance on USA is mostly bearable, though there is just the slightest soupcon of a Lampley-style smugness lurking underneath. We'll just give him 3 Lampleys and move on to more pressing concerns.
NBC: Jim Lampley
Ah, Lampley. This guy has been around since the beginning of time, feeding off of the scraps left behind by the A-list guys like Costas, Mussburger, et al. He seems to have modeled himself after Muppet announcer Guy Smiley in terms of both appearance and broadcasting style, yet he gets gigs as though it was still 1962 out there. His Olympics coverage has been marked by a jarring combination of Limbaughian jingoistic content (see the above-referenced 4X100 relay story) and the total lack of personal affect common to sufferers of Asperger's Syndrome. This would not seem to recommend him to the second-highest profile Olympic broadcasting slot for NBC.
Plus, in perhaps the ultimate indignity in all this, to the extent that Lampley holds any respect in the broadcasting field it's as a BOXING announcer. Thus, NBC could solve two problems at once simply by demoting Lampley to CNBC, thereby relieving poor Teddy Atlas of the most onerous of his time-filling responsibilities, and tap someone like Keith Olberman as the NBC anchor. This makes so much sense that it's almost painful.
Additionally, it's not like Lampley's non-Olympic life makes up for his broadcasting shortcomings. Lampley was one of the original "personalities" on WFAN, the New York City sports-talk radio station whose novel format helped publicize such the emotional disorders of fans nationwide. Also, in a gossip-style note that doesn't merit much space here, last year his fiancee accused him of slamming her head against a wall on New Year's Eve. So, Lampley's artistic performance scores are right down there with his technical merit numbers.
So why, then? Why does Lampley get the NBC gig over other, more qualified anchors? The only answer we come up with is the hair. Lampley's hair is just so magisterial that it overwhelms his manifest other shortcomings in the eyes of the NBC brass. While we yield to no one in our admiration of a solid haircut, we can't help but think that this is a thin reed on which to rest an employment decision.
It's not too late, NBC. Rescue Olberman from the purgatory of MSNBC, let him run amok in Beijing for week 2 of the Olympics, and send Lampley back to the Rotary Club awards dinner circuit. We'll all thank you for it in the end.