Sure, Blame The Typists Rather Than The Peacock

Usually I make a point of ignoring Bill Dwyre’s columns in my daily perusal of the L.A. Times — they have largely become a tour of fogeyism (outrage over Becky Hammon and Chris Kaman deciding to play for countries not their own in the Olympics, for example) — for some reason, I was bored this afternoon and read a column with its heart in the right place: there was a lot of instantaneous match update action rather than actual writing and reporting on the Olympics, but he takes shots at the wrong people for it, managing to empathize with NBC somehow in the end.

In Chippewa Falls, Wis., Herbie hits a button and yells out, “Hey, ma, Dwight Howard just got the opening tip over Pau Gasol.” Herbie is dazzled that he got the word so fast, and the typist is equally dazzled at the speed he got it there. Neither seems to wonder whether what had arrived was worth the effort on either end.

I sat alongside a bright young reporter for the Washington Post, while the Post’s local interest, tennis star James Blake, played a semifinal match. The reporter typed after each game and hit the send button. Blake served. He won. The other guy served. He won. Tennis is like that.

Noting that it was the middle of the night back in D.C., I asked the reporter why he was doing that, since his audience, at best, could only be 35 insomniacs and 11 tennis freaks. He shrugged and said he had no idea, he just did what he was told.

It is the way of the future, we are told, as if the word “future” always connotes “better.”

This practice has to be scary for Dick Ebersol and NBC. The Olympic god that we worship nightly for two weeks, every two years — that has set the pace and raised the bar and confirmed the tone of the Olympics as one of warmth and joy and celebration of athletic excellence and good sportsmanship — may soon be riding the same horse and buggy as this columnist.

Dwyre, the reason people are looking for these things online is the fault of Ebersol and his bosses at NBC — the refusal to alter the daily schedule and tape-delay the majority of events to the Western half of the U.S., never mind delaying the U.S.-Argentina hoops semi to preserve the Today show’s 7-10 AM slot across the country, is driving even more people and reporters towards on-the-spot updates of the action as it happens.

Look, I work in television. I know why it happens this way. Affiliate stations loathe delaying local news casts, because that’s where they pull a lot of their local advertising sales, and in a down economy, that’s what you have to try and bank on — sales of ads during the morning news, along with the 5, 6, and 11.  This is why even the Winter Games in Vancouver will be tape delayed despite the city’s location in Pacific time.  The ratings NBC garnered from the Olympics have justified the practice because 8 pm is a set time where people who are not sports die-hards, who have not had the results wrecked for them, will watch — and even if they have heard who won, there is the “you gotta see it” factor added in.  We are talking about corporate owned networks; this is not the CBC or the BBC, they need to bring in the cash to justify the expense.

This doesn’t make the practice right.  The reason Dwyre is lamenting an expansion of the “type it up and post it” ethic is because the core audience for the newspaper writers abroad — sports fans — are not being served by the main television outlet, which decides to hold onto events for half a day before airing them, an absolutely inexcusable matter for a sporting event. Yes, the Olympics are chock-full of soft-focus crap to appeal to people who don’t care about sports, but they are sporting events and ought to be treated as such.  For the responsible network with the rights, this should mean live coverage to all of the country, as much as possible.

Say what you will about ESPN — slaves to stereotypical narratives regarding athletes, in bed with the leagues it broadcasts to an uncomfortable extent, gimmicky, shoddy graphical look — but at least they treat the sports they broadcast as sporting events more often than not.

(Oh, Dwyre, nice cheap shot at the bloggers too — not like I haven’t read that one before. Y’know, the vast majority of us happen to pay rent to someone not a blood relation.)

Beijing: Olympics’ instant gratification has a cost [Los Angeles Times]
Beijing Olympics up 8% over Athens [Sports Media Watch]

(P.S. Yeah, that’s Katie Hoff, Michael Phelps, and Natalie Coughlin at some post-event function in China. I just thought the photo was funny.)

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Peddling My Wares For Others Again

A quick announcement, since I’ve been bogged under the past couple days with real-world ish: I will be back at Awful Announcing on partial weekend duty this football season, providing Sunday Night Football live blogs and chipping in with the Pam Ward Chronicles (the day in college football announcer quotes) from time to time.

Oh, Al. Oh, John. How I’ve missed your quarterback slobbering so.

Why Someone Ought To Outbid NBC For The Olympics

I have griped about the Peacock’s amazingly stupid mentality towards tape delaying events during the Beijing Olympics, and this is above and beyond the usual tape-delay frustrations because NBC is not alerting the telecasts in any way to make it clear to viewers West of the Mississippi that none of the content is live. In the wake of Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 200-meter win that none of us will see on television until later tonight (both Awful Announcing and With Leather are hosting video until the copyright police go after it), I am absolutely excited at the thought of ESPN formally bidding with the IOC for the rights, starting with the 2016 Winter Olympics.

In a sports and media world driven by the Internet and up to the minute results, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to have so few of the events by live in one half of the country and not live everywhere else — and, as NBC Universal is wont to do, get bent out of shape when the video leaks.

This leaves affiliate sports directors in the quandary of not publicizing the results of matches due to be aired on their stations AFTER local news goes off the air for the night — for example, if you are covering Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers in men’s volleyball because they happen to be from your market, and you know they’ve advanced to the gold medal match, but the match has not aired — you have no highlights and are even conflicted about reporting whether they’ve won in order not to spoil it for viewers who might be sticking around at 1 A.M.

The problem is that ESPN shouldn’t have a lock on all the important sporting events, but considering that they would actually rotate their cable networks’ schedule to do a lot more live coverage of events across the U.S., the trade-off is worth considering.  It goes without saying that ESPN would produce certain stuff that ABC could air live and probably delay to the Mountain and Pacific time zones, but so much more of the content would be live on the other channels.

Then again, also in NBC’s favor is that their presentation for sporting events (graphics, etc.) is just head and shoulders above other networks. ESPN’s work for ABC always seems kind of cut rate compared to how CBS handles college football and basketball and NBC handles football and the Olympics, and I keep thinking that the Four-Letter would underwhelm in this department.

Would you trade a near-monopoly on live sports to be able to see some actual Olympic content live?

Photo: Reuteurs/Kai Pfaffenbach

Tossed-Off Olympic Impressions

To be perfectly honest, the achievements of Michael Phelps are pretty much the only things I’ve watched of NBC’s Olympic coverage with any sort of actual attention — it’s very difficult to be emotionally invested in an Olympic outcome when NBC will only go so far as to have events broadcast live only for Eastern and Central viewers, even with USA, CNBC, and MSNBC at their disposal.  It has been impossible to avoid the spoiler effect online or on TV, as announcers of pre-season football games have gone out of their way to note Phelps and ESPN (rightfully, since it’s news) hasn’t hesitated either.

This isn’t going to change as long as NBC has the rights to broadcast the Olympics in this country.  The problem is that the powerful affiliate stations West of the Mississippi, particularly the NBC owned-and-operated ones, loathe shifting their 5 and 6 newscasts for sports, because it costs them prime time ratings, and the Olympics are the rare sporting event that draws the non-hardcore fan demographic.   It’s almost enough to make someone hope ABC/ESPN could win the next IOC contract in the hope of seeing some live events. ALMOST.

As for Phelps himself — yes, it’s safe to say the world is in awe of the eight gold medals and the breaking of Mark Spitz’s record for golds in a single Olympics, and it’s been scintillating television. I’m not interested in pissing on the parade, but considering the scrutiny track and cycling have received about doping, how many questions get asked about those in the pool? Usain Bolt has already earned an SI writer’s posturing despite him taking ungodly large strides because he is 6’5″.

Drugs and PEDs may be a real side effect of why baseball isn’t going to be in the Olympics in four years — in the sense that they may be the unspoken stumbling block between the IOC and MLB, which will not halt its season NHL-style to allow major leaguers to participate.  The IOC, acting holier-than-thou when it comes to doping but with its hand on the till in everything else seedy, would certainly want its own people (mostly WADA) handling the testing of MLB stars — and wouldn’t that be a kick.  Caught in the crossfire is softball, which also has the problem of being utterly dominated by a U.S. squad.

Still fully behind the NBA ballers wearing the Stars and Stripes this year, because there is one noticeable difference between this team and the one that won bronze in Athens: they are playing some spectacular defense, and that is creating the fast break points.  Spain was supposed to be a bit of a challenge and it looked like anything but down the line yesterday.  Better shooting has helped, although Michael Redd, the shooting specialist, is not on the floor a ton. It comes from guys like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and the rest of that squad getting open looks thanks to the defensive pressure — and the breakaways that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are getting don’t hurt either. (Who wouldn’t want to be Pat Riley this upcoming NBA season? Wade looks healthy, add him with Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley and that’s a combination that makes me think Riley will be kicking Erik Spoelstra off the bench come January.)

I will not watch a soccer match aired on an NBC network again because they have no concept on how to handle commercials. They cut to break at the most awkward of times, and the only reason we don’t miss goals is because damn near the majority of the Olympic footy matches are tape delayed altogether, even on the East Coast. (I’m thrilled that the Premier League season has started again, it’s been much better viewing.)

Yup, those Chinese female gymnasts had some members under 16. I think it’s funny that such a fuss is being made when the sport in general tends to value the pixie-like, some whom may even take drugs to hold back the onsets of puberty.  Essentially, Bela Karolyi got all pissed off on NBC because his wife Martha couldn’t get away with doing what the Chinese did with the U.S. team.  It’s why most of the major blogs went ga-ga over Alicia Sacramone even after her falls on the beam and during the floor routine essentially cost the U.S. the gold.  It helped that there was a YouTube video of her at Brown punching out a drunken frat boy, and it’s also about the hottie-ogling factor, but — shock — she looks semi-normal and not underfed. (Sympathy also came in when Andrea Joyce laid waste to her in the post-competition interview.)

Let’s just get this over with, NBC, so the rest of us can get back to both types of football and pennant races in baseball.

Dick Ebersol Collects On-Air Talent Like Jon Gruden Collects QBs

Eventually the set for the Football Night in America program on NBC will collapse under its own weight. NBC Sports’ head honcho Dick Ebersol’s philosophy towards on-air talent has to be similar to Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden’s theory of quarterback hoarding, because there’s really no other explanation for bringing in Dan Patrick to work with Keith Olbermann on the highlights end of the program this season. This leaves Bob Costas to shoot the shit with Cris Collinsworth, Jerome Bettis, and Peter King, as the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir is reporting.

After live-blogging damn near an entire season of Sunday night games last season for Awful Announcing, it was more than apparent that the booth for the pre-game show was already much too crowded for my liking (and that of many others) — NBC has taken the “too many cooks in the kitchen” approach of every pre-game show in the business and pumped it full of B-12, andro, or whatever else certain baseball players are pumping in with needles as of late.

More than four people on a pre-game show does nothing for the show except make it a stiff, dull affair — with that many people, there is very little opportunity for rapport or improvisation, cross-talk — because everyone has to get their on-air space to justify the contracts sports executives sign them to. CBS wins the NFL pre-game show contest almost by default because of this: not only do they have James Brown hosting, but the analysts are kept to four and they add in Charley Casserly for the front office view of things.

Obviously, what Ebersol hopes to gain from landing Patrick is the same interplay that he had with K.O. at SportsCenter in the 90s — which is some kind of nostalgia trip I’m not completely down with. I’m not saying it’s a bad hire or decision with regard to Patrick, but if you really want to nail that interplay down, take your new highlights pair, and ditch everyone else save Collinsworth and Bettis. (This will never happen, of course; Costas is too much of a face of the Peacock in terms of sports.)

Eventually the sports divisions of networks are going to feel more of the crunch that has hit news divisions, and an executive will stumble upon the idea that it might work to pay fewer people multi-million dollar contracts in pre-game and halftime coverage; not only will it save you money on an already bloated budget (as fees for television major sports will not be dropping any time soon), but it might actually make the program better.

As it stands now, the concept behind studio pre-and-post-game shows is similar to music executives signing any band with a possibility of being labeled “alternative” in the early 90s to a multi-million dollar advance: it reeks of desperation, trying to figure out what sticks in an uncertain market.

Patrick and Olbermann Will Reunite Their Act on NBC [New York Times]