Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Brian Williams Of Sportscasting

The four worst words in baseball (other than "The Yankees are eliminated") are "Yankee baseball on FOX". Most Yankee games appear on the Yankee-owned YES Network, and they do a pretty good job of broadcasting the games. Michael Kay is an excellent announcer, and he is complemented in the booth by a competent group of former players. Not so with FOX. They air Yankee games once or twice a month and their announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver are not exactly Harry Caray and Ernie Harwell. McCarver isn't bad--he's quite knowledgeable, in fact. And he's quite honest about pointing out deficiencies in players or teams--something others are usually reluctant to do. But as a former catcher, he seems convinced that his entire viewing audience is comprised of former major league pitchers and pitching coaches. We don't really need to know that if the pitcher's fingers had been two centimeters further apart, the ball would have sunk at a six degree greater gradient. But Buck is another story. He's a pompous, arrogant, narcissistic ass. In other words, he's the Brian Williams of sportscasting. Buck is convinced that he's exceedingly clever and witty. Ditto Williams. Buck believes that everything that comes out of his mouth is a bon mot or a pearl of wisdom. Ditto Williams. Buck acts as if he owns the game and he is doing us a great favor by telling us about it. Likewise, Williams acts as if he owns the news and he is also doing us a great favor by sharing it with us. Both men are ridiculously vain--Buck about his Rogaine-enhanced hair and Williams about his surgically-reduced nose. Here's another similarity: Both men work for companies who care more about money than quality programming. When baseball is on FOX, the actual game is not the most important consideration. Advertising and promotional dollars are much more important to FOX than baseball. Every half inning, the viewers are bombarded with promotional messages. Updates from other games are sponsored. The strike zone is sponsored. The batting lineup is sponsored. Instant replays are sponsored, usually by something called Valspar (I don't really know what that is, but I think it's an ointment used to treat the symptoms of Herpes). Sometimes, we miss the first pitch or two of the inning because FOX extended the break in order to show us extra commercials. And at NBC News, the programming is also secondary to commercials and sponsored segments. Earning money trumps the news. Segments are often sponsored--usually by pharmaceutical companies whose industry or products are regularly reported on by NBC. This is a huge conflict of interest for a news organization that is supposed to be impartial. But Williams doesn't care. His main goal is to pander to the audience with soft news stories about cuddly animals, cute children and people who do good deeds. (Any relation to actual news is strictly coincidental.) That way, Nightly News can gain the most viewers and get the highest ratings. And NBC can then charge the highest ad rates. And that's what's really important. On the other hand, Buck doesn't really have any effect on FOX's ratings. Any positive effect, that is. Most people seem to dislike him intensely. So he may actually be causing FOX to lose viewers. Maybe Buck and Williams should switch jobs. I wonder if anybody would care. Or even notice, for that matter.

I hear that Buck will be getting his own show on HBO next month. I wonder what he'll he call it. "The Greatest" and "I Am Legend" have already been used. And I hear that Williams will be calling his forthcoming biography "Anchorman: The Legend Of Brian Williams". Which is entirely appropriate for an anchor who is a cross between Ted Baxter and Ron Burgundy.

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