If it’s true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Outside the Lines can consider itself flattered every weekday afternoon around 1:30 p.m. ET on SportsCenter.
It comes in the form of the “SportsCenter CENTERPIECE,” created by veteran Outside the Lines producer Stuart Barbara when he took over as coordinating producer of the lunch time (Noon – 2 p.m.) slot in October 2012.
“I had done Outside the Lines [he helped launch OTL Nightly in May 2003 and OTL First Report in July 2006], and with SportsCenter we were looking for a different way to treat the day’s top story beyond the usual reporting of the news,” said Barbara, a Queens, N.Y. native who joined ESPN in June 1993 for the ESPN2 launch. “Of course, you cover the big story early in the show, but we were looking to give it another treatment later on. I knew from OTL that you need the right voices to make it work, and I knew we had them in-house every day. And, our anchors [prior to assignment changes] Jay Crawford and Chris McKendry are each good interviewers, so it played to their strengths.”
The idea went from concept to reality Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 after then-Baltimore Ravens linebacker [and current ESPN NFL analyst] Ray Lewis and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter each suffered career-threatening injuries.
“That first time, we asked, ‘Can we do one today?’ Barbara recalled. “We took the loss-of-a-leader angle, and we had people here – [ESPN NFL analyst] Ron Jaworski, Merril Hoge and [ESPN MLB analyst] Nomar Garciaparra – who could take us inside the locker room and describe the impact of missing a leader and could weave that common thread across both sports – so we tried it.”
McKendry was supportive from the beginning.
“When ‘CENTERPIECE’ was proposed, I saw opportunity for discussion, lengthy interviews and presenting stories in proper context,” she said. “In a world of 20-second sound bites and clips, ‘CENTERPIECE’ is rare.”
”Utilizing our outstanding roster of analysts in roles beyond breaking down clips; their ability to share their opinions and anecdotal experiences in relation to the news of the day was something not being done regularly within the SportsCenter rubric to that point,” Barbara said. “The feedback I received was that it was refreshing and energizing to them to be asked to do so.
“Mark Summer [senior coordinating producer for SportsCenter] wanted to keep it as a staple of the 1 p.m. hour, and [Coordinating Producer] Manny de la Fe and [Producer] Rick Angelo have done a nice job keeping it alive,” Barbara said. “I’m glad it found a place to live.”
Anchors David Lloyd and Sage Steele, who host the 1-3 p.m. SportsCenter on most days, are just as receptive to ‘CENTERPICE’ as McKendry and Crawford were.
“At its best, when the subject is intriguing and the panel is right, ‘CENTERPIECE’ is my favorite six minutes of the hour,” Lloyd said. “It can be rollicking, it can be heated, and usually it can both inform and entertain. I’m never quite certain which direction the conversation will go, which makes it a fun ride.”
“‘CENTERPIECE’ is a way for us to put context and perspective on the news,” Barbara said. “By noon [ET], people on the West Coast are starting to weigh in, and we want to inform and be part of their discussion.”