Fixing Jim Rome is Burning

One thing that I started doing during the past year was listen to Jim Rome’s nationally-syndicated radio show. I was hooked immediately. While Rome may have lost some firepower over the years, his show is still the best show in sports radio. The entertainment value of the radio show stands in marked contrast to his ESPN show, Jim Rome is Burning. Earlier this year, JRIB was bumped to ESPN2 full-time, the victim of ratings that couldn’t even hold up from its NFL Live lead-in, let alone carry them to Around the Horn, and it’s easy for me to see why. It feels like it’s simply going through the motions each day, going through the same cookie-cutter pattern, like it doesn’t really care anymore. It’s a far cry not only from the radio show, but from its very earliest days, when it was launched as an hour-long show, Rome is Burning, with considerable fanfare.

What makes matters worse is that, strangely enough, many if not all of the takes on JRIB are essentially regurgitated from the radio show, which means if you listened to the radio show earlier, you have zero reason to watch JRIB to listen to the same takes again, only made worse somehow. How could the exact same takes that are so entertaining on the radio show be so boring on JRIB? Here are some modest suggestions for revitalizing JRIB and making it a more worthwhile watch each day, bringing it up to, or at least close to, the level of the radio show:

Overhaul the opening segment. While Rome is always known for his rapid-fire style, when reading takes on JRIB he seems to be on a complete 5-Hour Energy buzz and reading his takes off a teleprompter almost in monotone. Instead of being a talking head staring into a camera, perhaps in the opening segment Rome should be sitting in the easy chair he uses for the “Alone with Rome” and “The Forum” segments. It might help him seem less robotic. What should also help is ditching the music playing in the background during his takes, which comes off as distracting; ditching the music might help the takes feel more naturalistic, the segment less artificial. Ditching the music could also allow Rome to make smoother transitions between takes, rather than have different pieces play for each take. More radically, Rome could adopt a new style for JRIB and write entirely separate takes just for that show. Whatever he goes with, Rome should feel like he’s simply shooting the breeze about sports with us, not rattling off a script as fast as he can.

Get a helper cohost. Perhaps part of the problem is that, while both introducing the story and giving a take on it works on the radio, it causes everything to blur together on TV. Since moving to ESPN2, JRIB has arguably been put to shame by the program airing before it, the new show Dan LeBatard is Highly Questionable. One key element that helps DLHQ work is the character (and ultimately, he is a character) of Papi, who serves as LeBatard’s foil and, more importantly, sets him up by introducing the topic for him to riff on. All of ESPN’s other talk shows use multiple people in similar fashion. Perhaps JRIB would flow better if he brought in one of the people who help run his radio show to introduce each topic and set him up to give his take on each one.

Tie the segments closer together, and give Rome more of a presence in each one. Currently the sequence of a typical episode of JRIB goes like this: Rome’s takes on the day’s sports stories, an interview segment, shooting the breeze with another personality, a once-a-week “correspondent” piece from an athlete, and one to three “final burn” takes. These segments have little connection with each other other than sports and Jim Rome himself, and the Correspondent piece seems particularly superflouous and its purpose should be rethought. Part of the problem is that during Alone with Rome, The Forum, and the Correspondents, Rome is ultimately a cypher who stays in the background while the guest is the star of the show.

While Rome tries to get topical guests on his radio show, his guests on JRIB are often whoever he can get who’s available, which isn’t the case on PTI. DLHQ manages to get away with getting the “best available guest” by giving the interview segment its own gimmick, but Alone with Rome is more of a straight-up interview segment, so Rome needs to make getting better guests for it a higher priority. Rome occasionally gives his own opinions during the Forum segment, but the focus there is clearly on the guest’s opinions, not his own, and the two are largely superfluous to one another. Perhaps the opening segment is so bad at providing a backbone for the show that simply fixing its issues could go far in tying the rest of the show together, but if not Rome needs to consider what he can do to make himself more of the star of the show, possibly including…

Consider ditching the Forum, or make it an occasional segment replacing Alone with Rome. If I recall correctly, when JRIB started the Forum was a full-fledged roundtable of panelists debating the day’s sports stories. Now, with the Forum taking up an entire segment on a half-hour program devoted to one guy giving a second opinion often on the same topics Rome covered in the opening segment, it seems like more of a waste of valuable time. Consider freeing the time up for another segment like the first one on two or three topics, allowing the opening segment to breathe more and allowing Rome to slow down his takes. Alternately, save some topics to be covered only in the Forum and give Rome closer to equal billing in that segment; the topic taken from Twitter in each Forum in the ESPN2 era may be a step in this direction.

Rome should take his show’s move to ESPN2 as a wake-up call that JRIB is broken and needs fixing. Wikipedia claims that Rome has, in the past, threatened to abandon his radio show entirely and do only a TV show. If so, I hope that JRIB as it exists today is not what such a show would look like. The best thing that could probably happen to JRIB would probably be going back to an hour-long show, which probably can’t be had without leaving ESPN. Short of that, Rome needs to find a way to get the show to work within the time that he has.

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