TNT’s silly experiment

NBA game with no play-by-play guy? Um, maybe not.

Late last week, TNT tried an experiment on its weekly national NBA telecast. During the second game of its doubleheader, Oklahoma City at Golden State, the broadcast was aired without a traditional play-by-play man. Instead, analysts Steve Kerr, Chris Webber, and Reggie Miller handled the game.

It proved a couple of things. One, any ploy to draw eyeballs to a meaningless late-season NBA game is worth trying, and this did the trick. Two, a solid play-by-play man is worth his weight in gold. While Kerr, Webber, and Miller had fun and did a nice job discussing the various offensive sets and the big picture of the NBA, the details of the game itself, like the players on the court, the foul situation, who had the ball, etc., was often overlooked. And the charged-up excitement the announcer adds to a great play (think Marv Albert’s “Yes, and it counts!” or Kevin Harlan’s “With no regard for human life!”) was conspicuously absent.
In other words, a fun stunt, but don’t count on it being repeated too often.

Many compared TNT’s experiment to the time in 1983 when NBC aired a game without any announcers at all. The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins football game was shown with only audio accompaniment and graphics. Ironically, the effort was panned, despite the fact that by today’s standards, there was hardly any information on the screen—no fulltime score/time box, for example, no first-down line, no score ticker. There was the usual cynicism about not having to listen to this or that biased announcer, but the game had the effect of proving the chatterer’s value.

A little-known sidebar to that 1983 game was that the empty broadcast booth was just a distraction. NBC’s real aim was to deploy an experimental three-pronged field microphone. The mic captured the grunting carnage and quarterback audibles (“Slide, 59 razor!! Hut hut!!”) better than ever, and NBC slid it seamlessly into its productions after having proven it was the real deal.

Fast breaks

The NFL may be the nation’s most popular sport by a landslide, but it’s a slide of a different kind that concerns the league. Attendance is down in many cities and overall, and the NFL is rightly worried that the experience of going to a game pales in comparison to what the average fan has at home. In the stadium, there is no Red Zone Channel, no fantasy trackers, no ability to follow what is going on across the league. At the stadiums, meanwhile, the replays are spotty, smartphone coverage is poor, the seats are uncomfortable, the weather is iffy, food and drinks are expensive and often not good, ticket prices are absurd, you pay to park, endure endless TV timeouts, etc., etc.

So the NFL is scuffling to find a way to add value to the in-stadium experience. That’s why the league has given a green light to cameras inside the locker rooms, which will be turned into a pre-game and halftime show for fans at the game.

Before you get worried about the other team watching the big board to get a strategic advantage, the home team will control the production, hopefully preventing not just playbook slips but also towel slips. Still, the move reeks of desperation. It’s hard to believe anything of value will come of it. As a veteran of locker rooms, I can attest that the only thing the fans will see is a lot of milling around and the occasional tape job. On the other hand, the spectators won’t be subjected to the clubhouse odor, so that’s something.

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Robert Weintraub is the author of The House That Ruth Built. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Slate, and a television writer/producer based in Atlanta. Tags: , , , ,