HBO Turns Its Back On Larry Merchant

larry merchant25.04.07 - By Matthew Hurley: It didn’t come as much of a shock to read in Steve Kim’s recent column that HBO, in its egregious lack of wisdom, has decided to let veteran broadcaster Larry Merchant go and replace him with the completely unproven Max Kellerman. Kellerman has never been particularly liked at this address, and I’m only speaking in regards to his broadcasting skills (or lack thereof), but I place no blame on him. I also don’t think ageism was the final deciding factor because every show the young, exhaustingly enthusiastic Kellerman has hosted in the past has failed miserably. The blame belongs squarely on the HBO sports department bobble-heads Ross Greenburg and Kery Davis.

Larry Merchant remains the most compelling and, granted oftentimes, frustrating “expert analyst” in boxing. His indelible, halting on-mike persona has led many a couch potato to choke on his swill of beer and say to the belly scratcher next to him, “Larry’s three sheets to the wind.” Indeed, Merchant’s flubs, mixed metaphors and off-the-wall asides are as remarkable in their entertainment value as “unofficial” HBO scoring judge Harold Lederman’s shrill histrionics are annoying.

There are many boxing fans who simply can’t stand Larry Merchant because of his curmudgeon-like negativity, but lately his on air derision of many HBO boxing cards reflected exactly what the viewers, at least the true boxing fans, were thinking. One mismatch after another and ten too many pay per view cards have been taxing the patience and bank accounts of all HBO subscribers. Larry was the only on air personality to call this bullshit into question. But, as Steve Kim pointed out, “…maybe, just maybe, with so much derision being brought onto HBO lately, the last thing they wanted was in-house heat, which Merchant was delivering more and more of.”

Basically, what ousting Merchant for Kellerman means is a further dumbing down of HBO’s boxing program. How many more Wladimir Klitschko – Ray Austin blowouts or center stage profile fights like Joe Calzaghe – Peter Manfredo will we be force fed? Greenburg’s decision to hire Kellerman, at first for Boxing After Dark broadcasts, now as head analyst all on top of potentially broadcasting UFC bouts on the network indicates that there is very little desire on HBO’s part to be the best boxing broadcasting network. They haven’t been for a while and show no indication of improving.

But are Greenburg and Davis, who have allowed HBO to become a cigar smoking room for pampered, over paid house fighters, completely to blame? I say “no”. We are – the buying public. We are as complicit in the demise of HBO’s boxing schedule as the people who run the network. At some point, and that point should have been when HBO put Floyd Mayweather – Carlos Baldomir on pay per view if not well before that, we should have all turned the tube off. As bad as the broadcast did, it still sold. There are still suckers out there. It’s seemed, for quite some time, that HBO, which used to discriminate in terms of matchups and pay per views, jumped ship and decided that as long as we keep feeding these rats cheese they’ll still keep coming. And that’s all that HBO has been feeding us, rancid cheese. But apparently, someone’s still eating it up.

And now they decide to get rid of Larry Merchant. Merchant has been around forever and anyone who has punched that workman’s time clock for as long as he has deserves respect and can be allowed that certain cantankerous attitude to emerge at inopportune moments. Merchant’s television style is unique because he is a former newspaper columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, the New York Post and the LA Herald Examiner.

He joined HBO as a boxing analyst in 1978 and has remained the most familiar figure on the broadcast team ever since. He brings a journalistic sensibility to his fight calls. There is, at times, an awkward hesitancy in his delivery; a deliberate mind-search for the right word or phrase that stutters him when speaking into the microphone while looking into the camera. It is the columnist in him and it has provided for some malapropisms or on air gaffes, all entertaining on some level, and some great moments of confrontation with fighters like Bernard Hopkins or only-wished-for brush offs of camera whores like Don King. He’s the total package, flaws and all. And he made for great boxing television.

According to Kim’s article Merchant will work the Oscar De La Hoya – Floyd Mayweather Jr. bout this May 5th and perhaps one more before Kellerman takes over. One can only imagine what non-stop verbiage we will be forced to endure from the lacquer headed, pencil bearded Max and the hair sprayed to hard rock won’t-blow-in the wind Jim Lampley.

In the end the feeling here is that after De La Hoya – Mayweather HBO’s boxing schedule will be deplorable. I think they’re cashing in all their chips on May 5th. They’ll make a lot of money off of the hard core boxing public and then leave them high and dry. They just don’t seem to care anymore.

And whatever your opinion is on Larry Merchant, believe me, you’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Article posted on 25.04.2007

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