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The flagship program of the sports network ESPN, Sports Center has been a staple of the American male diet since 1979.

SC, which celebrated its 30,000th episode in 2007, is a sports highlight and analysis show that can be seen at almost all hours of the day on ESPN. Someone who wakes up at 7 a.m. can flip on the TV and watch SportsCenter until he leaves for work at 8:30. When he comes home at 5 p.m., he can watch the primetime version of SportsCenter. When he goes to bed at 11 p.m., he can watch the late-night version, and then the edition from Los Angeles updated to catch the West Coast scores at 2 a.m. And since 2008 he has been able to watch it when he's home sick on a weekday all the way to 2 p.m.

What started as a simple, low-budget highlight show has, like its parent network, metastasized into a kind of pop culture leviathan that both dominates and frequently influences the sports world it covers.

SportsCenter truly rocketed to national prominence in the early 1990s, when the 11 p.m. broadcast was anchored by Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann. (Yes, that Keith Olbermann. Before he became MSNBC's preeminent liberal scold, he was a sportscaster, and a damned good--and hilarious--one, too.) The two were smart, witty and cultured and they introduced a brand of cutting humor to the broadcast that made it must-see TV. Some of the scenes in Sports Night are references to this--including the "left off the letter 's' in 'bulging disk'" bit. Of course, on Sports Center, nobody caught it before airing...

Unfortunately, Olbermann, by his own admirable admission, was a bit of a prick and left the network in the late 1990s, though he and Patrick remained friends. Patrick expanded his role into other areas of the network, leaving SportsCenter in the hands of Patrick's post-Olbermann partner, Kenny Mayne, as well as the alternate duo of Rich Eisen and Catch Phrase Machine Stuart Scott. When Eisen left in 2003 to become the on-air lead of the newly minted NFL Network, SportsCenter was left to be anchored by a collection of new talent who sought to emulate Scott's painfully hip catch phrasing (with varying degrees of success) rather than the Olbermann/Patrick/Eisen urbane snarkiness.

In recent months, the show's producers have streamlined SportsCenter and eliminated some of the more objectionable aspects of the show, such as the shouting analysts and meaningless segments constructed solely to pimp sponsors. For all the complaining about the show, SportsCenter is more popular than ever. There are no serious national challengers to its dominance; CNNSI was launched in 1996 as a 24-hour sports news network, but failed and shut down in May 2002; it didn't help that ESPNEWS, which served essentially the same function, was launched shortly before CNNSI. Also, CNN's long-running nightly sportscast Sports Tonight, which had existed since CNN was founded in 1980, was removed from CNN's schedule shortly after 9/11, moving to CNNSI and was canceled for good with that network's demise. Fox Sports Net has also failed in its attempts to combat SportsCenter. When that network debuted in 1996 it had a news show called Fox Sports News, renamed National Sports Report in 1998. They managed to get Keith Olbermann in 1999, but he left in 2001 and the show was canceled in 2002. In 2006 FSN debuted a news show called The Final Score which used a basic format of highlights-only and scores to draw viewers in, but it was canceled in 2011.

Outside of sports, the show is also famous for its incredibly funny This is Sports Center commercial series, featuring athletes and celebrities in odd situations (such as Danica Patrick's race car getting towed from Dan Patrick's parking space, David Ortiz offending his mascot by wearing a Yankee hat, or the Manning brothers getting into a fight while taking a tour of the studio).

This series contains examples of:

  • Catch Phrases as stated above, although over time this seems to have disappeared.
  • Demoted to Extra: Ever since ESPN and the NHL parted ways, hockey highlights have now become few and far between. According to Deadspin's weekly "Bristolmetrics" article, which breaks down the show's coverage of sports and athletes in terms of time spent on a subject, the NHL averages only 15-20 minutes of highlights per week during its season.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Chris Berman is the gold standard for the network, but the anchors have mostly ditched catch phrases for these, although some are actually pretty damn clever. Robert Flores has a Getting Crap Past the Radar knack concerning these ("99 problems but a pitch ain't one" and "Is Wayne Brady gonna have to Djokovic?")
  • Long Runner: And how.
  • My Name Is Not Durwood: Chris Berman's Incredibly Lame Pun Nicknames for players. One lowlight: Joseph "Live and Let" Addai.
  • Salt and Pepper: The Los Angeles anchor duo of Neil Everett and Stan Verett.
  • Totally Radical: Almost everything said by Stuart Scott.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: Very frequently, the first highlight shown on the program will be a recap of the sporting event that the network just televised.
    • Or, even worse, highlights from the big event on another network that just ended, with a greeting of those switching to SC from the game...
  • Witty Banter