Onion hopes parody of ‘SportsCenter’ leaves viewers saying 'Boo-Yah'

By Richard Sandomir

New York Times News Service

Published: Sunday, Jan. 9 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Even ESPN has unsuccessfully tried to find vehicles to mock itself, said John Walsh, its executive editor. "It's so difficult and challenging," he said.

The problem with parodying a program like "SportsCenter, Walsh said, is that "there has to be total knowledge and understanding of the stories you pick and do it in such a way that the understanding reflects the reality of what you're seeing every day."

But Keith Olbermann, the MSNBC anchor who was a "SportsCenter" star in the 1990s, said he wondered if it was worth trying to mock it at all. "How could you parody it in the shape it's in now?" he asked in an e-mail. "It's its own parody."

For the last three years, Graham and Smith have prepared their assault on ESPN by stocking the online Onion Sports Network with short, overheated reports (Evander Holyfield boxes a horse for the heavyweight title; Fenway Park plans a "massive antiquation" to return to its 1912 look) that add an extra dimension to recognizable, "SportsCenter"-like reporting.

''ESPN's coverage is so overhyped that it's a challenge to go further than that," White said. "We see them as our competition."

''SportsDome" moves into a Comedy Central programming lineup dominated by "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," which twit the network news culture and Bill O'Reilly of the Fox News Channel, respectively.

The channel's embrace of mixing sports and The Onion could lead some viewers to object to the treatment of sacrosanct subjects; one report is a "Cops"-like parody about retired NFL players with concussion-related dementia, with updates that pop up throughout the show.

''It's always subjective," said Kent Alterman, the channel's head of original programming and production. "There's no absolutely right or wrong to anything. For me, a lot of it is, 'Is there a real satirical point that makes it defensible?' You can never predict who's going to laugh or not."

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