The New Morning Drive: Bigger Is Not Better
by Jeff Skinner
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Someone please get that message to the suits at NBC because they broke it, they broke The Morning Drive.
When NBC took control of The Golf Channel there were some definite advantages. NBC has a ton of golf broadcasting experience and talent and both channels have benefited from the union but I think The Golf Channel may be suffering from a case of “corporate creep.”
I can’t help but think that the new changes at the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive were driven by some corporate desk jockey trying to milk their biggest hit show for all they can. Making the switch to seven days a week, The Drive looks like a Today Show wannabe.
Gary Williams had carved out a great niche at the controls of The Morning Drive. It seemed like everybody that’s anybody wanted to spend time on The Drive. After jettisoning original partner Erik Kuselias, Williams hit his stride as he carried the show while they had “on air auditions” for the other seat.
Recently they selected Damon Hack, formerly of Sports Illustrated, as Williams’ partner and he has been excellent. Williams does the heavy lifting, Hack is a fine addition and the two of them have a good chemistry.
But this week we saw the much ballyhooed changes that The Golf Channel promised would give us a bigger and better Morning Drive. Well after three days the verdict is in and it’s not good. They’ve screwed it up big time.
First of all the desk has grown from a standard twosome with an occasional third to a full time foursome. Williams and Hack have been joined by the jovial Charlie Rymer and former NBC correspondent Ahmad Rashad and the results are dismal. Please, more is not necessarily better.
Rymer is certainly watchable. His trademark self-deprecating style works well and he’s always good for an interesting anecdote. But Rashad is awful. He looks unprepared, distracted and unprofessional. I feel for Williams as he has done his best to carry his ill-equipped partner but so far it’s not working. Please tell the suits at NBC that playing golf with Tiger Woods doesn’t necessarily qualify you for The Morning Drive. It’s hard to believe that Rashad has been in this business for two decades because he looks like an amateur. Maybe he’s distracted by all the turmoil in his life but his only contribution to the these three shows have been updates on where his next round is.
The addition of two permanent members at the desk hasn’t been smooth. The Drive has gone from a relaxed, concise discussion of the day’s topics to a forced, contrived dialog with all four members having to comment and get their allotted face time. Where the old Drive had matured into a silky, Ernie Els type swing the new Drive starts and stops and stutters like Charles Barkley. The table is simply too crowded with four guys all needing to say their piece.
So many new faces on The Drive have made it look like a casting call for the next Tin Cup.
John Cook showed up one morning and while John is insightful enough he has that irresistible quality that makes him an NBC’s executive dream: he’s a friend of Tiger.
Long time anchor Kelly Tilghman has hitched a ride on The Drive and she now has the task of handling “The Front Nine” and “The Back Nine” where she throws out topics to the crew. Tilghman is her usual adequate self but her addition has pushed Holly Sonders out of that spot. Sonders is relegated to giving updates from her new and cleverly transparent podium.
Matt Gianella joined The Drive earlier this year from years at Golf Digest as their travel editor and he is still learning the game. But with such interesting content I can live with his on the job training.
For my money the new and improved Morning Drive is any thing but improved. And not to be picky but where are Gary’s trademark sweaters? He’s been in sports jackets since the change. Has The Drive suddenly become a formal affair?
A few shows may be a small sample but The Morning Drive has a long way to go to get back to what made it The Golf Channel’s best show.