The first-ever ManningCast debuted last night. Peyton and Eli Manning hung out on ESPN2 and chatted about the game in front of them for four quarters and overtime. Charles Barkley, Ray Lewis, Travis Kelce, and Russell Wilson all made appearances too. It was a bit of a bumpy start, but once the Manning brothers settled in and all technical missteps were dealt with, the broadcast was fun.
That's the simplest way to put it. It was fun. Peyton and Eli talked football and made fun of each other, at points sounding like two grandpas swapping war stories and barbed comments in equal measure. They reacted like fans watching the game, which made for great television at the end of the wild affair that was Ravens-Raiders. Their physical reactions to the Derek Carr interception on third and goal in OT would not have been out of place at the sports bar down the street.
It wasn't all perfect. The pair's inexperience with live television was obvious, consistently talking over one another and nearly always getting cut off when it was time for a commercial break. Sometimes they'd go down a football rabbit hole so deep you wouldn't have known you were watching a live game. That's the kind of stuff that gets fixed over time, though. The foundation of the ManningCast-- being a fly on the wall while two Super Bowl-winning QBs talk shop-- worked. It worked very well.
It worked well enough to make one wonder how other sports could pull this off. There is a science to a standard sports broadcast, crucial nuances that can only be understood through experience and training. It's why Tony Romo's instant success at CBS was such a shock. Plenty of athletes and analysts have a level of charisma and knowledge on the same level as Romo's. But he inherently understood when to speak and when to let Jim Nantz monologue, how to quickly get his point across, blending in perfectly from Day 1. For most people, understanding those concepts and then executing them live is a learning curve. That curve is often too steep for former athletes, in particular, who spend their entire lives playing the game and then have to learn a new job while meshing with lifelong veterans of the industry. It is not easy.
Peyton and Eli's successful debut, though, means the door is opened for other former athletes who have an entertaining personality and have the ability sit in front of a camera for a few hours at a time. In theory, it eliminates that learning curve almost entirely. As long as they have a working camera/microphone setup and remember they can't say whatever they want because they're on live television, the success is replicable.
The NBA did try something like this with Player's Night on NBA TV and it was not well-received. Maybe football, with its built-in breaks to talk about whatever and the slower pace, is more suitable than other sports. And the idea is not for everyone. I, myself, missed the presence of a play-by-play broadcaster during the biggest moments of Monday Night Football. It is neurologically imprinted in my mind to expect it after an entire life spent watching a standard broadcast.
But the fact that this concept worked means we could, and should, get more variety with our broadcast options. It is a relatively simple formula with great payoff potential. Find some entertaining retirees or even current athletes, get them on the same screen, and just let them riff. We're a long, long way off from the greater public preferring this method of broadcasting to the industry standard, of course. Still, watching Peyton and Eli, it's easy to imagine what could be.