Pandering fails to capture X-treme audience

March 24, 2001

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So here I am, emerging from the obscurity of my temporary hiatus, and why? Not to post a review of Voyager or Andromeda, but to comment on the laughable travesty that is the XFL.

XFL, if you haven't heard, stands for X-treme Football League, although X-tremely F***ing Lame might apply equally well.

Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against more football. Although I'm not intensely into football the way some people are, I do enjoy the NFL season quite a bit, and the XFL didn't initially sound like a bad idea. Saturday-night football — especially now that the Chicago Bulls are so bad as to make the NBA season virtually unwatchable for me — didn't sound like a bad idea.

That was before the thing aired.

Now I can't help but laugh, as the XFL last week reportedly hit rock-bottom toilet ratings by scoring a 1.6 — believed to be the lowest-ever prime-time night among the three major networks in the history of Nielsen Media Research.

I'm laughing.

Here's why: The XFL is a self-promoting crock. They simply tried waaaaay too hard, and the audience wasn't as stupid as the XFL promoters hoped we would be. WWF/XFL mogul Vince McMahon and NBC made a grave miscalculation by thinking they could BS the audience into buying the XFL with X-treme Hype when their actual product was mediocre at best. It's one thing to be cutting-edge, and it's another thing to be shallow and gimmicky. Guess which one the XFL is?

What's good about the XFL? Well, for one thing, I like the overtime rules. The NFL needs to scrap sudden-death overtime in favor of something like the XFL's overtime. I also thought some other rule changes — like only needing one foot in bounds for caught passes, for example — weren't bad things.

But anything and everything the XFL tried to do to make football more "fun" was overshadowed by its own overblown stupidity. I'm sorry, but I don't need players getting on the mike between plays and speaking to the entire crowd. That's just silly — especially since these guys are so obviously encouraged to say things in the interest of making the game more "extreme." The posturing and trash-talking might be interesting if it seemed genuine, but it doesn't; it's a contrived and calculated sideshow, like in the WWF. At least the WWF has the sense to know it's scripted.

And cheesecake shots of cheerleaders get very old very fast. Who watches football for cheerleaders? Trying to insert a sexual element into a non-sexual event for the sake of itself is tired and dumb.

The primary target demographic was said to be 18- to 24-year-old males, I think. Or maybe 18- to 24-year-old Alpha Males. Or maybe just general idiots. Even if you like the XFL, you've got to admit that it panders to the lowest common denominator in a way that's embarrassingly obvious and shameless. It's so transparent — without completely intending to be — that it's sad.

The coverage is what is especially lame. The commentators treat the play-by-play like an extended commercial for something we're already watching. It's as if they get paid based on the number of times they excitedly shout, "Only in the XFL!" This is where I think the XFL especially killed itself; the self-promoting during the game is so insanely ridiculous that it's a turn-off even for those of us who were willing to give the league the benefit of the doubt.

The XFL tries to pass itself off as being so much more "extreme" than the NFL that there's almost a superior smugness to it: "Yeah, we have raw, REAL football; we're not the watered-down NFL!" I'm sorry, but we know better. You've got to be cutting-edge and confident without resorting to out-and-out lies that the audience can see right through. You're the XFL, you're brand-new, you have second-rate (or 15th-rate) talent playing on the field, announcers who seem to know nothing about football analysis, and you want us to believe you're cooler than the NFL just because you don't have the fair-catch rule? Excuse me while I try not to laugh in your face.

Week one was a hands-down ratings success. But week two saw that initial audience halved, and week three halved it again. Now it's a ratings loser. By season's end, NBC will probably have been better off keeping "Pretender" and "Profiler" on Saturday nights, both of which were canceled last May specifically to make room for this league.

But now we have proof that the audience isn't as gullible as the creators of the XFL obviously believed or hoped. The promotion did a great job hyping the league, but they made the fatal mistake of being so cocky about it that they thought we wouldn't know the difference between empty hype and solid entertainment.

I say cancel this X-treme Failure League. There have been plenty of better-rated quality shows out there that were prematurely axed by impatient network executives. For once, ax something that deserves it.

And someone tell X-treme Analyst Jesse Ventura to either (a) go back to Minnesota and pretend to govern a state, or (b) head to a jungle in South America and get killed trying to help Arnold Schwarzenegger kick some alien predator ass.

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