The Morning Drive Expands to Weekend
by Jeff Skinner
Yesterday The Golf Channel announced that it would be expanding its early morning show, The Morning Drive to seven days a week. Also announced were new personalities and their responsibilities as The Golf Channel’s hit show grows into an everyday affair. From the press release:
Beginning Feb. 4, the show will expand to a seven-days-a-week schedule. Co-hosts Gary Williams, Damon Hack and Holly Sonders will be joined by Golf Channel analyst Charlie Rymer to form the on-air “foursome” typically covering Thursdays through Mondays. Longtime anchor Kelly Tilghman will be a central figure on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while on-air personality Lauren Thompson will provide news and scoring updates midweek. Matt Ginella, who recently joined Golf Channel after 11 years as travel editor of Golf Digest magazine, will serve as a co-host throughout the week.
The show also announced several additions to its standing group of regular contributors and guest hosts. Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Ahmad Rashad headlines those additions, as Rashad will serve as a guest host moving forward. The show will also feature 11-time PGA Tour winner John Cook, who will join the show during some of golf’s biggest weeks. Annika Sorenstam, Brandel Chamblee, Tim Rosaforte and Jimmy Roberts will all continue to contribute regularly to the program.
Now, you will have to travel far and wide to find a Morning Drive fan that is as dedicated as myself. But even I can recognize some potential pitfalls here. First the expansion through the weekend will fill a void that existed for avid golf fans. But I may have chosen to limit that to weekends of major championships and significant tournaments like The Players and WGC’s. The risk here is for over exposure and we have seen much of that in sports lately. Does anyone watch those Tuesday night college football games on ESPN? Even an NFL nut like me forgot about the Thursday night games half the time. Five NBA games on Christmas day? Sometime more is not always better.
The saving grace for their weekend coverage is that the heart of Morning Drive, Gary Williams will still be pulling anchor duty and his new partner, Damon Hack has done very well transitioning into a desk job. But will I be rushing to tune in on the weekend of The John Deere, or the Tampa Bay Championship? Not quite.
As far as the new talent that will be gracing the new, expanded set come February, well let’s just say I hope there’s a probationary period. Firstly, adding Charlie Rymer is a great move. He’s funny, self-deprecating and surprisingly insightful. Matt Ginella is still finding his on camera equilibrium but has been very solid since joining the cast. But Kelly Tilghman is still the most over-exposed personality on The Golf Channel and the Tuesday and Wednesday shows will miss Williams.
As far as the two “big names” announced to join the show, John Cook and Ahmad Rashad, they both have something in common that may have landed them this gig: both are close to Tiger Woods. Cook was one of Tiger’s closest friends on tour and Rashad spent years hanging with Woods and Michael Jordan during Tiger’s years of extracurricular activity. Rashad’s name appears in the gossip columns as much as Woods does these days. Do we still need Tiger insiders telling us how well Tiger played in a practice round? Don’t we have Tim Rosaforte for that? Like John Hawkins used to say, Tiger is the needle. Speaking of the Hawk, he would have been a good choice to join the crew. We see too little of him, maybe his tell it like it is style was too much.
It is comforting to see that Brandlee Chamblee, the best voice on the Golf Channel, will still be contributing as well as Rosaforte who’s connected better than anyone in golf.
But lacking was any reference to John Feinstein or Paul Goydos who livened up the anchor desk each time they appeared. Jerry Foltz had done an excellent job as Williams foil but he doesn’t look to be in their plans either.
The risk here is that The Morning Drive could head down the path that many shows on ESPN and NBC have followed. Originally The Morning Drive copied the successful format of ESPN’s Mike and Mike. Erik Kuselias, a former part time host on Mike and Mike was even given the co-chair with Williams but was sent to the hinterlands of sports broadcasting, The NBC Sports Channel, after he started Tweeting about his relationship with his on air partner Holly Sonders. (Does anyone know what channel that is?) ESPN has a reputation as a college frat house with dozens of employees incurring sexual harassment suits.
With The Golf Channel now owned by NBC Universal I can’t help but think some executives pulled out The Today Show Playbook and just stuck The Morning Drive in its place. This expansion mimics the way they moved a very successful Today Show to a seven day a week property when it was daytime television’s most watched show. Currently, The Today Show has fallen from the top and is currently struggling to hold viewers.
I can understand why The Golf Channel would want to gather more viewers but they need to be wary of the pitfalls of over exposure and maybe need to check the character of their on air personalities. More isn’t necessarily better and you are only as strong as your weakest link.