‘Morning Drive’ starts out in the slow lane

From left, Erik Kuselias, Holly Sonders and Gary Williams on the set of Golf Channel's new talk show, 'Morning Drive.'

From left, Erik Kuselias, Holly Sonders and Gary Williams on the set of Golf Channel's new talk show, 'Morning Drive.'

“If it’s compelling, if it’s interesting, it will find its way onto our show,” Erik Kuselias told viewers at the outset of Golf Channel’s two-hour “Morning Drive,” which debuted at 7 a.m. today. The first show fell short of that goal, as Kuselias and co-host Gary Williams stuck to a modified sports talk-radio format – lots of predictions and speculation on golf and the NFL.

It’s far too early to pass judgment on “Morning Drive,” though I doubt that many first-day viewers made it a point to TiVo the daily show. (I have, however; such is the price I pay to serve you, dear readers.) “Morning Drive” is an experiment for Golf Channel, and producers there no doubt are tweaking the formula on the fly. But it’s worth sharing a few observations about the first day’s efforts.

Kuselias made several references to the “cool set,” which actually didn’t look all that cool. It looked a lot like ESPN’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” set, minus the sports mementos, bobble-heads and other baubles. There’s not a whole lot about the set, other than a “Golden Tee” pinball machine, that screams “golf.” We’ll have to see how the set evolves over time.

Williams seems way too serious. If you turned down the sound and just watched his facial expressions, you would think he was debating tax policy rather than kibitzing about a silly game. You’re talking about golf, Gary. Lighten up.

New hire Holly Sonders didn’t get much air time. She provided the “Golf Central Updates,” which totaled about three minutes out of the two-hour show. First impression: Sonders is attractive (shocking, I know – a winsome TV anchor), but seemed nervous and uncomfortable. We’ll chalk that up to opening-day jitters.

Kuselias was identified in graphics as having “Hosted ‘College Football Live’ on ESPN” and “Hosted ‘The Erik Kuselias Show’ on ESPN Radio”; Williams was identified as the “former host on the PGA Tour Network on Sirius XM Radio.” I understand the need to establish the hosts’ bona fides, but it seems odd to prominently cite their work for competitors. It’s probably better just to let the hosts’ work stand on its own. If viewers want to know more, they can look up the hosts’ bios on Golf Channel’s website.

There’s not a natural rapport between Kuselias and Williams. Hopefully, that will develop over time. Kuselias, for instance, tried to lighten the mood when Williams mentioned the defending British Open champion. “I like that name – Louis Oosthuizen.” The best Williams could manage was, “Oh, very likable name.” The best show of this genre remains ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” where regular hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon have been friends and colleagues for 30 years. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that long for Kuselias and Williams to mesh.

There were no surprises in the first show, nor any laughs. Also, the second hour started very much like the first: a discussion of 2011 expectations, then on to the upcoming NFL playoffs. Kuselias made clear that every subject is fair game, but he and Williams stuck to a fairly pedestrian lineup. If you say everything is in play, then run with it. Shift the debate occasionally to politics or pop culture or news of the weird – subjects that are either provocative or amusing. They mentioned, for instance, that President Obama was staying in Hawaii an extra day to play more golf. There has to be some fodder there for a few yuks, but they never came.

On a related note, “Morning Drive” is going to need more guests than the three who appeared on the first show. Or else it’s going to need additional on-camera hosts or occasional features. I had questions as to whether Kuselias and Williams could carry a two-hour show; it’s still early, but the first day didn’t do anything to alleviate those questions.

“Morning Drive” might want to consider using an on-screen menu, as ESPN does on “SportsCenter” and “PTI.” That device alerts viewers to what’s ahead, and hopefully keeps them coming back to the TV set.

In retrospect, “Morning Drive” might have been better off pushing back the first show to Jan. 10. That would have allowed the hosts to talk about the outcome of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions rather than spending a lot of time talking about what might happen in Hawaii and later in the season.

At 8:32 a.m., the hosts did a phone interview with Arnold Palmer. When the subject of golf in the Olympics was broached, Palmer struck an unusually somber tone: “We have certainly enough wars in this world, and if we can help cut down the wars by creating a competition between golfers around the world, that would be something that would be very good.” I know it doesn’t behoove anyone in golf to question The King, but the modern Olympics have been around since 1896, and any correlation between the Games and world peace would seem tangential at best. It’s not clear why adding golf to the Games would change that fact.

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