Soccer Talk Live, a new TV show from Fox Soccer Channel, debuted Monday night in place of the recently cancelled Fox Football Fone-In. The new show, hosted by former LA Galaxy player Kyle Martino, is a completely different concept than anything Fox has tried before, so they should be given credit for trying. However, the first episode was poor, had no substance, lacked pace and dragged so much than the one hour show felt twice as long. I love soccer, but this show was not a joy to watch.
Debut episodes can often be hit or miss. I remember watching the first episode of the US version of The Office on NBC and thought it was awful. I ditched that show thinking I’d never see another episode of it, but a few months later the buzz in the office was that the show was actually getting quite better and was now watchable. Let’s hope the same thing happens to Soccer Talk Live.
Let me start with the positives. Martino is a natural in front of the camera. He’s got an excellent personality that makes the guests feel welcome and that pulls the viewer into the show. He’s definitely a shining star and I can now see why Fox gave him the opportunity to host his own program. That said, the rest of the cast is under utilized. Tiffany Solano is responsible for reading out viewer e-mail and tweets on air, just as Temryss Lane did last season on Fox Football Fone-In. Comedian Brendan Hunt is Martino’s sidekick, but Hunt is neither funny nor needed on the show. His contributions were a brief rant about World Cup refereeing and the need for goal-line technology, and a yoga stunt near the end. Temryss Lane, meanwhile, had her own segment entitled “In The Fast Lane with Temryss Lane,” which focuses on stories on the periphery of the sport. In this, the first episode, she performed yoga with Edson Buddle on the beach. Next week she interviews the girls from Miss Universe. No joke.
My wife and I sat down and watched the show together. She liked it. I didn’t. To me, the show felt more like Live With Regis and Kelly than an evening or late night chat show. The topics were incredibly lightweight. The closest the one hour got to anything hard hitting was when Martino asked guest Cobi Jones whether Bob Bradley should continue as coach of the US men’s national team, but Jones replied with a very politically correct answer by saying that it’s the responsibility of the US Soccer Federation to make the decision, not him. Other topics discussed included a very brief interview with Landon Donovan about what it was like playing at the RBNY Arena in New Jersey, a cozy interview with actress Elisabeth Shue about her new movie and what it was like growing up in a soccer family, and a few other topics none of which are worth mentioning here. Unfortunately Donovan was scheduled as the main guest for the episode but wasn’t able to make it into the studio due to a death in his family.
Other similarities to a morning show were the cast of pretty faces featuring Martino, Jones, Solano, Lane and Shue. The show is a million miles away from the tough physical game that is played in the streets and barrios around the world. Yes, the show is filmed live near Hollywood, California, but there was too much glitz and glamor on display. The show needed a dose of reality outside of the cozy confines of LA Galaxy and the studio. Having it set in front of a studio audience would have been a good start.
Soccer Talk Live is a feel-good show with an admirable goal. It’s trying to entertain, not educate. But it ends up failing in both categories. Hopefully as the Fox crew get more shows under their belt and bring on better guests, the show will improve. But having Shue on was a mistake. It was painfully obvious that she knew very little about the game. Jones is such a regular on Fox that he had nothing to add despite seeming like an incredibly nice person. And Donovan’s absence from the set was unfortunate. Let’s hope him not being on camera is not a bad omen for the show itself.
When I first heard about the concept for Soccer Talk Live, my biggest concern was the demographic. How could a chat show entertain both soccer fans and people interested in Lindsay Lohan? They’re two completely different audiences. It’s my opinion that by trying to marry the two together that the show fails to attract either audience. This is not a show for the hardcore soccer fan, not even the casual fan. If anything, the first episode felt like a women’s show hosted by a hot guy and featuring segments about yoga and Shue’s family. It sounds, to me, like a show for soccer moms.
While I admire Fox’s desire to create a new type of show on the network that is different than the rest, my concern is that Fox Soccer Channel is getting more and more out of touch with the average soccer fan in America. Instead of dumbing down the sport to help Shue understand the intricacies of the sport (and thereby alienating most of the audience), the network should be reaching out to people who can raise people’s interest and understanding of the game, or tell soccer-related human interest stories that will pull the viewer in. During the past World Cup, ESPN raised the bar by improving the analysis to a world-class level. While Fox may not have the budget or talent to match that, they could certainly try. Instead they went the complete opposite direction and tried something bold and new. It failed. But hopefully they can pick up the pieces, learn from their mistakes and make some radical changes to rescue the show. Or, better yet, they should ask their viewers what they want to see. They may be surprised by all of the good ideas many of them may have.