Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Two ESPN Programming Notes

I need to be quicker about things, because they get stale quickly.

1. Saturday night's SportsCenter offered a quick lesson on how editing decisions can be completely unfair. The University of Georgia played Oklahoma State on Saturday, and going into the day this game was one of the "bigger" games, mainly because there were few games between larger conference teams. ESPN chose to show one "highlight" of the game, immediately after showing clips of 2 touchdowns for Alabama defeating a 1-AA opponent. The only "highlight" they showed of the game: Reshad Jones shoving an Oklahoma State player and then getting escorted to the sideline. Full time of highlight: 10 seconds. Did the highlight let you know who won the game? No, in fact, it probably made someone who merely caught a glance think that Oklahoma State won. Did the highlight show an important moment of the game? No, because at the point of said shove, the score had just become 35-14. Five plays later Georgia intercepted a pass. Said penalty had no effect on the score or outcome. The player who was shoved was not injured on the play. Jones wasn't even ejected from the contest (though there was a Notre Dame player ejected for punching on Saturday in their game with Georgia Tech - surprisingly, that play wasn't shown on the SportsCenter I saw). So to recap, in one of the few games where a Top-15 team played a BCS-conference opponent, in one of the few good performances for a good team against a good opponent, on the world's most viewed sports highlight show on that day, ESPN decided the only thing its viewers deserved to see about the game was a mental mistake that had zero effect on the game but made the team that won look bad. Let me be clear: I'm not saying "conspiracy"; I'm saying that there are completely incompetent people chopping highlights and writing copy in Bristol.

2. But it's not just ESPN's employees that deserve scorn. It's also those to whom ESPN provides a readily visible forum. Take Sunday morning's The Sports Reporters. One might think, were one hoping to actually book pundits who would know what they're talking about, that guest reporters on the show would have some form of expertise in a particular field likely to be covered in that week's show. For example, if it's Masters' week, and it's pretty clear that at least one segment would be devoted to covering the golf tournament, the show might want to have on someone who knows a lot about golf. Or in the middle of March, the show probably wants to have on writers who cover college basketball. Or, perhaps, on the opening weekend of College Football, they might want to have some writers who actually cover college football, like Tony Barnhart of the AJC, Pete Thamel of the New York Times, or, hell, even Stewart Mandel or one of the other SI college football guys. No, you would be thinking incorrectly. The guests on Sunday were William C. Rhoden of the New York Times, Roy S. Johnson of Mens Fitness Magazine, and Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe. None of these men is anything close to an expert on college football.

But that's not why I'm writing about it. It's the opening statement William C. Rhoden made at the beginning of the show that bothered me. Rhoden expressed outrage at the fact that Serena Williams and Venus Williams were on track to play one another in a semifinal on Friday. His line: Venus and Serena should only meet in the US Open in PRIME TIME and in THE FINAL (he accentuated on those lines). He offered no reasons why seeds should be set up with a final pairing the Williams sisters. Basically, if I understand him right, he's saying one thing: that Venus and Serena Williams should never be seeded anything but #1 and #2 in the tournament. Serena Williams was, actually, seeded 8th. Venus Williams was seeded 12th. Was this a wrongdoing by the seed? Should Serena have been seeded #1? Well, she's actually ranked (entering the tournament) #9 in the world, and Venus Williams was ranked 14th in the world entering the tournament. So both were actually seeded ABOVE their ranking. And if there's anything clear about womens' tennis, it's this: neither of them is deserving of the top seed in the tournament. Justine Henin was far and away #1 in the rankings, points chase and money list. The gap in money (the closest the Williams sisters are to her) between Henin and either Williams sister was more than 50%. Serena was beaten twice by Henin this year in Grand Slam events. There is no reasonable argument for either of them to have been ranked #1. None. Henin is the best player in womens' tennis right now and absolutely deserved the top seed. Venus and Serena are both very good tennis players, but neither is prolific enough on tour to merit a top seed. Venus and Serena have combined for 4 victories (2 each) on tour this year, and in fact, those 4 wins are the only appearances by either in a final of a tournament. Henin has won 6 tournaments this year (and finished second at a seventh). Jelena Jankovic (third seed, and Venus' opponent in the quarterfinals) won 4 tournaments and finished second at 3 others. Svetlana Kuznetsova (fourth seed) made the finals of 5 tournaments, and won the last WTA event before the US Open. Ana Ivanovic (fifth seed) made 4 finals, winning 2 tournaments. Anna Chakvetadze (sixth seed) won 4 tournaments this year. Perhaps one could argue that Maria Sharapova was undeserving as the second seed, but she was the defending champion. And now that Henin has, for a third time, dispatched Serena (in straight sets), will William C. Rhoden say anything? What possible objective reason could Rhoden have for saying the Williams sisters deserve special treatment? What axe does he have to grind? Does the New York Times or ESPN have a problem with Rhoden stating an opinion that has no reasonable basis to support it, and leaves the reader with but one impression (I don't even have to say it)? Does William C. Rhoden have contempt for his readers and audience, or at least believe they are dumb enough to buy his ill-founded arguments?

I believe the ESPN ombudswoman has a very difficult job.


honeyg said...

I found your blog because I googled Rhoden and the Williams sisters. I, too, found Rhoden's opening comment ridiculous and didn't watch the rest of the show (not because of that) so I didn't know if he elaborated on his reasons but if Rhoden wants Serena and Venus to play each other in prime time, they have to actually keep winning. And Serena didn't. I feel a big nyah nyah nyah coming on.

peacedog said...

I had a big problem with the UGA "highlights" as well. There were good highlights to show in the game. How about a glimpse of Moreno's electricity (something they would have been happy to do if it was Florida or USC, of course)?

Or how viciously the UGA DL got after OSU?

Why does ESPN suck so hard?

The General said...

Not only did ESPN fuck up the highlights, but they fucked up the coverage of the start of the game, too. Despite the 6:45 scheduled start, coverage on the Deuce didn't switch to Athens feed until a full 40 minutes later. Dave Pasch, who was broadcasting the (albeit exciting finish of the) Ill-Mizzou "Arch Rivalry," said at 6:46, "For those of you in the states of Oklahoma and Georgia, we'll get you out to that game in time for opening kick." Never once did they mention either verbally or in the ever-present "bottomline" ticker that the UGA-OkSt game was being shown on ESPN(1) not (2). I didn't realize it until after the first 2 scores, stupidly believing Pasch's promise to take me there. I'll never understand why networks stagger games on the same channel only 3 hours apart. Has there ever been a televised college football game that lasted only 3 hours? And in that ESPN2 ticker, instead of telling me to change channels, it was sequentially scrolling thru games involving top25 teams, and it mysteriously skipped from the yet-to-start (12)Cal game to (14)UCLA, oddly omitting the (13)UGA game in progress. You may not say conspiracy, but WTF?

Kyle W. said...

It's a complete lack of news judgment and accountability that I couldn't have gotten away with at The Red & Black, much less my current employer. If Stafford had committed some egregious act of violence against a guy, a la Marcus Vick a couple years ago, they'd have a leg to stand on. But this was a redshirt freshman backup safety, playing in his first game, doing something stupid after the game's outcome had already been decided. This is barely news. It certainly isn't the biggest--or only--news to come from this game.

Maybe this is the logical conclusion of the evolution of SportsCenter into the sports equivalent of the Daily Show: news intended as entertainment, not as news (and I don't mean to slight the Daily Show, not least since it's just doing what it's supposed to do, and in a far better way than SportsCenter performs its own role now). Maybe this was always a fine line to walk since sports is meant to be entertainment in the first place. But SportsCenter, at least in my mind, was intended to be informative first, and entertaining along the way. At some point, those priorities got switched--much in the way the priority given to Gameday's informative and promotional roles flip-flopped in recent years, as LD has faithfully documented. It started innocently enough with Kilborn, Olbermann and Patick, whose "catch phrases" and antics gave the news an edge but didn't overshadow it. Now they just don't know how to put together a proper news show anymore. If no player is bigger than the game, then no news outlet should be bigger than the news.