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.

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]

Navel-Gazing At A Bad Time

I’ve spent about two to three days trying to figure out how to articulate this properly without coming off as dismissive of the late Tim Russert of NBC News: looking at his resume and reading obits (and even writing some off info for a newscast) has been a fascinating look at his career, and despite personal quibbles about certain aspects of his work, he still appeared to give a shit about his job and cared to do the work, often appearing on TV six or seven days a week while serving as NBC’s Washington bureau chief.  There’s a ton that has to go into that, and I respect that. May you rest in peace, Mr. Russert.

But there is a such a thing is overkill, and I have the feeling that NBC crossed a line, starting with Tom Brokaw’s announcement of the news on Friday afternoon, both MSNBC and the NBC news programs that aired on the broadcast network (Nightly News and Dateline) were both completely dedicated to Russert, as if nothing else had happened during the day that ought to get in the way of mourning a respected journalist, colleague, and friend.

The problem is that there was, and still is something that supersedes Russert’s unfortunate passing — damn near an entire state is underwater.  Not that they haven’t been covering it before and didn’t cover it afterwards, but just look at the pictures from the Des Moines Register and tell me dedicating all your news programming to one man is the right editorial decision to make.

Maybe it’s because I went to college in Iowa, not too far from some of the really flooded areas (thankfully, the campus and everyone around it is only suffering from the storms and flooded basements), but NBC’s decision seems awfully short-sighted and myopic. There is a reason people express such dissatisfaction with the media on a regular basis, and I can’t help but believe that decisions like this are why people are turning their TVs off, claiming those of us in the industry are out of touch.