As any fan living in the States knows, rugby TV shows are few and far between. So with Fox's Rugby World making its debut on Friday, a lot of excitement was generated in the US rugby community.
I watched the show with great anticipation Friday, but was left feeling disappointed. I went on twitter and facebook to get some feedback, and chatted with fellow blogger Josh Young, who came to the same conclusion: great to have rugby on TV, but this was far from perfect. Was it the commentators? The content? Our high expectations? I couldn't put my finger on it, so I decided to sleep on it.
Saturday rolled around; knowing the show would air again on MSG, I set up Tivo so that I could watch it again. Great! So how did I find it second time round? Well, it's worse than I thought. I realized that my high hopes for this show blinded me to its awfulness. How could I have missed that? Hell, I had twittered that I thought it was alright. Needed some work, but it's ok, right? Err, no.
Let's start with the commentators; Dave Sitton, Brian Vizard, Ray Viers, and Matt Brown. For anyone who has watched rugby over the years on Fox, these gents are familiar faces. I don't knock their knowledge of the game; all are established rugby folks, but their delivery was dreadful. The sometimes forced dialogue sounded as though they were reading straight from a script. And they didn't look relaxed standing there (I'll get to the location in a bit). It also wasn't helped by the way three of them were dressed (hint: you're off the hook Dave!). Rugby shirts are good in two places; on players and on fans, not on the commentators of a televised show. Just be yourselves and say what comes naturally, not what you think you should say. Please lose the shirts - you may want to head on over to Canterbury to pick up some nice dress shirts and jackets!
Location, location, location...Infinity Park is a great rugby gem in Glendale, CO, and like most stadiums, they have a bar to enjoy a tasty brew at a game. But to record your entire show in the bar did seem a bit..oh....I don't know...crap. What's wrong with a studio set with comfy chairs, nice deco, no drunken rugby players milling about? It works perfectly well for other sports. With rugby trying hard to get proper recognition in the country, I don't think it helps to play into the lame old stereotypes of what rugby is about. I suggest get out of the bar, get yourself into a studio with seating and maybe space for an invited guest tor two. And switch out those pints of Guinness for a nice mug of coffee (P.S. I won't tell anyone if you need to make them Irish).
Finally, the content. I enjoyed watching some of it, however, I was confused who the show was targeting. There was a cornucopia of professional rugby footage from around the globe and nothing but a small snippet on rugby in the US. There's already an endless supply of Super 14 or Guinness Premier coverage, be it on cable, online, magazines etc. But when it comes to what's right on our own doorstep, you have to rely on a dedicated bunch of folks such as Rugby Magazine, blogs like Your Scrumhalf Connection, and Pakis corner, to find out what's going on.
For me, this thirst for local knowledge comes from my days in Wales. I loved watching a BBC Wales show hosted by Eddie Butler that exclusively covered Welsh rugby. The show's coverage was a great insight into local rugby at different levels, whether international, club, or university. It was a Welsh rugby show made for Welsh rugby fans. In the US, television doesn't even skim the surface of rugby. It seems to me that any show like this would be sitting on a pot of gold of untapped material. I can't speak for everyone, but I would think, seeing how NYAC did at the weekend in the Super League or hearing how the collegiate championship is going, that it would be engaging viewing. The foreign leagues should be covered, sure, but should it dominate a rugby show aimed at American viewers?
If Fox expects Rugby World to draw in American viewers, they need to know what fans want to see. That, and the hope that you, the readers, will also speak up, is what motivated me to write this. Because I'm sick of seeing US rugby shows that just don't make the cut.