The five best sports studio shows currently on the air
On sports networks, the main draw is (duh) the live games. That’s the appointment viewing, and that’s the reason we all tune in.
But there are only so many live games on a schedule, and so many hours in the day, so networks need to fill their schedules in other ways. That’s why studio shows, featuring a bunch of people in a studio talking about games, news, and highlights, exist. So many studio shows have come and gone over the years in a variety of formats, and there are seemingly more than ever on the air today. Which studio shows stand out from the rest of the pack?
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
MLB Tonight has become the premier live look-in show in sports. It airs each night on MLB Network, and can thrive in many different formats, from a bridge between games, to a pre or post-game show, to a marathon session of highlights and analysis. If your favorite team isn’t playing (or you just don’t want to watch them, for whatever reason) and you still want a baseball fix, MLB Tonight is there to keep you updated on every game and break down what’s going on across the league.
Furthermore, you might not see the same people every night on MLB Tonight, because the network employs several hosts and dozens of analysts that rotate in and out behind the desk, including on the same night. Unlike other shows on this list, if you see someone on camera that you don’t like, you don’t need to completely punt on the show – you might just see someone else in the next hour or the next evening.
Inside the NBA
Inside the NBA is an institution among basketball fans, one of the least serious studio shows on air today. Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith poke fun at each other, the league, and its players, while host Ernie Johnson attempts to play the traffic cop role to perfection (sometimes failing when things get a little too out of hand). Inside the NBA also mixes in recurring segments and games to keep viewers amused and to keep the program fresh, and oh yeah – they talk about basketball, too.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea (especially if you take sports Very Seriously), but it’s hard to find a show more ingrained with its current network and its sport’s fanbase than Inside the NBA.
Fox NFL Sunday
I had to pick one NFL pregame show, and I’m picking the one that has experienced the least amount of change in recent years. I’d say that Fox NFL Sunday is the most well-rounded of the networks’ pregame shows, while also being the least preachy, shield defending, and serious of them all. None of the panelists (though both Terry Bradshaw and Jimmy Johnson are getting long in the tooth) come off as out of touch with today’s game, and the younger ex-players on set (Tony Gonzalez and Michael Strahan) bring more modern takes to the table.
It also helps that host Curt Menefee doesn’t get on his soapbox and takes over the conversation. I despise when hosts don’t let the analysts analyze, and Menefee rarely (if ever) falls into that trap. The crew on Fox NFL Sunday has worked together for years, and it shows with the on-air product.
Premier League Live
I am still having trouble believing that this is the seventh season of the Premier League on NBC. One constant of the network’s Premier League coverage has been its flagship show, Premier League Live. Incredibly, the cast of Premier League Live has also remained constant, with host Rebecca Lowe (or an occasional fill-in) joined by two of Robbie Earle, Kyle Martino, and Robbie Mustoe. It amazes me that NBC hasn’t tweaked that formula in seven years, resisting the urge to expand the cast, add schtick, or just change the core of the show.
However, while Premier League Live still sets the standard for American soccer viewers, I do think we’re approaching the time where NBC will need to make some kind of change. There is only so long that viewers can hear the same people talk about the same sports before we need a change of pace.
For my final selection, I’m going with the one “embrace debate” style show that I can actually stomach. Highly Questionable is tough to explain – at its core, the show is Dan Le Batard talking about his sports with his father (Papi) and an ESPN personality (or sometimes, two ESPN personalities). But in reality, it’s so much more. One recurring segment is “si or no,” which serves as a ridiculous preview for the night ahead in sports and other ventures. “Do you question?” is something resembling a recap segment for controversial moments. Athletes are occasionally interviewed, but the interviews aren’t filled with the usual boring questions and bland answers.
HQ isn’t going to be confused with SportsCenter, First Take, or even Pardon the Interruption, but isn’t that what we really want? If a viewer wanted to watch any of those shows, they could – and they could watch a whole bunch of other shows created in the same mold. HQ is so different from the rest of the daily lineup of talking heads, and that’s why it stands out from the pack.
Joe Lucia has been covering sports media since 2011, and is a fan of the Ravens, Braves, and Manchester City. He was born and raised in Harrisburg, PA, but now makes his home in southern California with his wife.