Pardon the Interruption
Compared with Fox Sports Net’s popular ”Best Damn Sports Show Period,” Pardon the Interruption is a leaner, meaner fighting machine. It’s hosted by two print guys, Washington Post sports columnists Tony Kornheiser (who’s also written an extremely amusing humor column for the paper) and Michael Wilbon. Both articulate, middle-aged, opinionated baldies with strident monotones, Kornheiser and Wilbon aren’t your standard TV personalities, and as if that weren’t enough to recommend them, the structure of their show is so simple yet so revolutionary, I defy even sports-phobes (among whom I count myself) to tune away.
On the right side of the screen, ”Pardon” lists one-word topics the hosts will discuss, debate, and yell about. This is called the ”Rundown,” and might include entries such as ”Sampras,” ”Brazil,” ”Sr. Open,” and ”Balloon.” A clock goes up, and in 90 seconds or less, Kornheiser and Wilbon plow relentlessly through each item on the day’s list.
The brilliance of the concept is that even if you have no interest in tennis’ Pete Sampras, you might look at the list and think, ”I’ll stick around and see what they have to say about golf’s U.S. Senior Open, and what the heck does ‘balloon’ mean in this context?” The brevity of the arguments (a bell dings after the announced number of seconds, and the hosts are forced to clam up and move on) combined with the range and humor of the subject choices (”balloon” referred to Steve Fossett’s round-the-world balloon trip, a feat that Kornheiser dismissed curtly: ”He’s a dope”) gives ”Pardon the Interruption” an irresistible momentum. It’s what producers are always trying to do with television — make it so you can’t stop watching.
At a mere half hour, ”Pardon” is inevitably cogent, witty, and blunt. They even have a guy on staff to keep track of the factual ”errors and omissions” that the breathless Kornheiser and Wilbon commit, and he corrects them on the air, near the end of the show. No sports programming, not even ESPN’s vaunted ”SportsCenter,” is as self-conscious about its subject and its medium, yet so energetic, funny, and exhilarating.