The George Michael Sports Machine
|The George Michael Sports Machine|
Lindsay Czarniak (2004–2007)
|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original release||1984– March 25, 2007|
The George Michael Sports Machine was a syndicated, sports-related television program which was launched in 1984. The show aired weekends, usually on Sunday nights, across the nation and originated from WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., one of NBC's owned and operated stations. Most of the stations that aired The Sports Machine were NBC affiliates.
The show was an offshoot of a local program that George Michael, a former disc jockey who became a sportscaster, hosted in Washington beginning in 1980. Michael hosted the program for its entire run, which ended in 2007. Current SportsCenter anchor Lindsay Czarniak, who was a colleague of Michael's at WRC and worked for Turner Sports and Speed Channel as well, joined the program as a substitute host in 2004 and became Michael's co-host in 2006.
Shortly after Michael joined WRC-TV in 1980, the station launched the program as George Michael's Sports Final, a local sports wrapup show on Sunday evenings, following the late newscast. After a successful four-year run in Washington, NBC's other owned-and-operated stations—at the time in New York City, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Chicago—added the program to their Sunday late-night schedules, and it was retitled as The George Michael Sports Machine. NBC-affiliated stations began to pick up the show in 1986, and in 1991 Group W Productions took Sports Machine into wider national syndication. The show moved to other syndicators such as Eyemark Entertainment, King World Productions, and ITC Entertainment before NBC Enterprises (later NBCUniversal Television Distribution from 2004 until the show's final episode in 2007) began distributing the program in 2001.
As host, George Michael presented clips from the weekend's sporting events from across the United States and sometimes outside of the U.S. Unlike newer sports-related programming, Sports Machine did not usually present commentary or criticism and focused on the highlights, and, often toward the end of the show, an in-depth story about a particular athlete. The show was also somewhat unique in its occasional coverage of remarkable high school sports footage, and its occasional coverage of sports largely ignored by other sports wrap-up shows, such as ice hockey, NASCAR and other auto racing events, professional wrestling, rodeo, and equestrian events.
Influence and criticism
When the show premiered nationally in the mid-1980s, the only highlights available to sports fans on Sunday nights were those on late local newscasts and the ESPN and CNN cable networks, creating an audience niche for Sports Machine to fill. By the later years of Sports Machine, however, the rise of numerous specialty cable sports channels (notably ESPNews) and the expansion of Sunday evening local newscasts to either air an extended sportscast (an extra in common parlance) or a separate program to recap Sunday football and baseball action caused many stations to either drop the program or air it later in the night—issues made even worse in 2006, when NBC acquired the rights to Sunday Night Football, which in turn pushed late local news on most of the Sports Machine's affiliates even later.
An idiosyncrasy of the show was the large quantity of fake machinery on its set: After introducing each of the highlights, Michael would press a button which "activated" the "sports machine"—a large computer with several monitors attached to a videotape reel-to-reel—to play the clips. Michael and the producers chose the computer motif mainly because high technology was fast coming into the American consciousness at the time of the show's debut.
The show magnified highlights in order to take out the distraction of the digital on-screen graphics added by the networks.
The Machine shuts down
Beginning in 2004, fellow WRC-TV sports anchor Lindsay Czarniak joined Sports Machine as a contributing correspondent and substitute host, and she became the official co-host of the program in September 2006. However, this arrangement did not last long, as Michael announced on November 16, 2006 that he would retire and Sports Machine would end its 27-year run in March 2007. Michael reasoned that he would not want his contract renewed at the expense of WRC-TV's sports staff, which was slated to be reduced under NBC Universal's network-wide, cost-reduction initiative.
The last episode aired on March 25, 2007. After thanking his co-host, sponsors, syndicators and staff, Michael said this at the end of the show:
I close every show every Sunday by saying, "Thank you for letting us be a part of your weekend." Well, tonight, for the final time, we say, "thank you." Thank you for letting us be a part of your life. From everyone at the Sports Machine, have a great weekend, everybody. We hope to see you somewhere down the road of life. Thank you.
Michael then walked off camera, and was heard to say "Last one out, turn out the lights!" as the show closed for the final time.
The end of Sports Machine coincided with the end of Michael's contract as lead sports anchor at WRC, and he was replaced by Czarniak in that role. Michael continued to appear on sports panel shows and Washington Redskins-related programs for WRC-TV and Washington-area sports talk radio stations until more production and budget cuts forced those shows to be terminated. Michael died from leukemia on December 24, 2009.
Shortly after the end of the Sports Machine, Czarniak became a permanent part of TNT's NASCAR broadcasts as a pit reporter in addition to her duties at WRC. She left that position after the 2011 season. In 2011, Czarniak left WRC to take a position at ESPN and initially was an overnight anchor at ESPNews before becoming a fixture on SportsCenter, where she anchors the 6 PM broadcast with John Anderson.
References and notes
- John Maynard (2006-11-17). George Michael to drop anchor chores, continue weekend sports panel shows. The Washington Post.
- Hecken, Phil (August 25, 2016). "Broadcast Throwbacks". Uni Watch.