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Archive for Sunday, October 30, 2005

Commentary: Replays, close-ups ruin Series on TV

October 30, 2005

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When television first started using replay during broadcasts of sporting events, the idea was so novel, so radical, that an "Instant Replay" footer was displayed on the screen to let viewers know this was not real life.

The Fox network, which just finished mangling coverage of the World Series, should use one of those visuals, too. Its graphic should read: "Live Action."

If you watched Fox's presentation of the just-completed Series, first off, here's some Dramamine. Secondly, you probably spent as much time watching replays as you did watching real life. Thirdly, you heard as many bells as you did whistles, and you heard far too much of both.

Once upon a time, television covered baseball unobtrusively. It set up a few cameras, stuck a couple talking heads in a booth and brought you whatever transpired on the field.

If there was high drama, television delivered it to your home. If there was low comedy, you got that, too. If the game just sort of sat there, well, there wasn't much anyone could do about that. After all, TV was there to serve as our eyes and ears, even if that meant Baltimore 6, Los Angeles 0, and here's Ron Fairly to lead off the Dodger ninth.

Ah, but Fox doesn't recognize simple moments. With the mindset of someone who would colorize the beginning and end of "The Wizard of Oz" to grab today's 6-to-16 demographic, Fox fills every moment with audio-visual excess, implying drama where none exists.

It leaves the playing field for long stretches at a time, foraging through the crowd. Here's a man leaning on a railing with a plastic cup in his hand. Here are seven people with their hands in prayer position. Here's Barbara Bush, looking as lovely as she did 90 seconds ago.

Fox dashes about, never giving you a chance to catch your breath. Now you're looking at Roy Oswalt in a shot framed so tight you can see the spinach stuck in his teeth. Now it's fan cam. Now it's earthworm cam, looking up at Paul Konerko's crotch from a small camera stuck in the ground. Now it's off to the dugout for the always popular he's-about-to-pick-his-nose cam.

Now, duck! Here comes another volley of replays, accompanied coming and going by whooshing full-screen graphics. What's that? A siren? Something going down at the ball yard? Nah. Just an in-game promo for a new Fox drama. "Prison Break," get it?

When Fox finally stumbles across real drama, it has no clue.

The 400 replays? That's roughly one for every pitch thrown to that point in the game. Of course, Fox didn't replay every pitch. Sometimes you didn't get any. Other times you got four replays of ball two in the dirt.

It would be naive to demand that Fox give us back our game. Networks rule the world these days. Just ask the Yankees and Angels.

Because Fox wanted them as the prime-time game the first weekend of the playoffs, they had a 7 p.m. first pitch Sunday in New York, and an 7:15 p.m. first pitch Monday in Anaheim.

When Fox says "jump," Derek Jeter says, "Using whose forehead as a springboard?"

More realistic is to hope that Fox and major league baseball fail to reach a new agreement when their current television contract runs out after the 2006 baseball season.

Maybe another network -Nickelodeon? - can treat the game with more dignity.

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