Saturday, January 5, 2008


Forgive the unexpected lack of updates. Turns out damn near everyone who contributes here was working one or more bowl games and those that didn't were still hung over from various wrap parties or just plain lazy (you know who you are).
Anyway, with the NFL regular season over and those meaningless BCS games behind us, things should get back to normal. No, make that things could get back to normal. No promises.

Getting almost as much attention as Britney's latest breakdown is the amount of airtime Fox gave to school bands in each of their first three BCS games. While it seems that many, many people didn't like it, WITH LEATHER may have captured the mass opinion best.

According to those counting, the band shots have increased with each game, including a jump from 58 in Wednesday's Fiesta Bowl to 110 in Thursday's Orange Bowl. Robotic and hand held cameras were dedicated not to cover the games, but to cover the bands! Although it didn't make air, a split screen showing opposing school bands was actually readied during at least one BCS telecast. Thankfully, plans to create a drinking game out of this were halted when even college students realized that they couldn't keep up.

A greater concern isn't how many band shots appear during the BCS Championship Game on Fox, but how many will appear after it.

The emphasis on showing school bands comes straight from Fox Sports chief David Hill, so the ripple effect could reach all the way down to the local level in Anytown, USA.

It has happened that way before.

In the past, Hill's personal ideas on coverage were implemented without fail by the various Fox Sports production teams. After all, a large part of their jobs is getting Hill's visions on the air. Ultimately, Hill is the boss at Fox Sports and what he says goes. Fair enough.

However, he's not the boss at Fox Sports Net and basically has no reason to care what the cable outlets do on the regional level. But somehow what he says ends often goes over at FSN too.

Go back a decade to when Fox acquired Major League Baseball. Hill was widely quoted as saying that baseball coverage was boring and the Fox would take steps to change that. Fox announcers were not to talk about anyone who was dead. Directors were instructed to cut from shot to shot, not dissolve. And the split screen, all but extinct for a decade, was revived with a vengeance.

The mighty Fox PR machine trumpeted these innovations to the press and when columnists like USA Today's Rudy Martzke bought in, every FSN employee with bigger aspirations took Hill's credos as gospel and altered their coverage of local sports.

It didn't matter that Fox Sports and FSN are about as connected as The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal. It didn't matter that many Fox Sports executives wouldn't hire FSN personnel solely because they were FSN personnel. It didn't matter that David Hill couldn't name all the FSN regions, much less take time to watch their coverage. It didn't matter that while his baseball ideas may (or may not) have worked on a weekly, national level, they were disasters on a daily, local level.

Announcers everywhere were suddenly stripped of half their material. In baseball, where the past is at least as important as the present, fans watching the Pirates for example, only heard about the current crop of cellar dwellers, and nothing of the Clementes and Stargells of their history.

Executive Producers called their TV trucks from home to reprimand production teams on the spot for a violation of the cuts-only rule or to demand more split screens no matter how they actually worked in the telecast. Split screens featuring opposing players, teammates, battery mates, owners, GMs, fans, etc. cluttered the shows. Aggressive directors would cut from split screen to split screen, until more than once, the same player was on both sides of the split.

Some directors would literally come into a show determined to get a preset number of split screens on air as quickly as possible and be done with them for the duration of the game.

Fox Sports eventually moved away from such baseball edicts but it took more than two years after they abandoned the no-dead-guy, no-dissolve, ultra-split-screen mandate, for some of the regions to follow suit.

But now that school bands are priorities at the network, don't be surprised if they suddenly and similarly dominate college and high school sports on cable, beginning with basketball.

And don't be surprised if David Hill doesn't notice.

No comments: