Suggestions for 21st Century Broadcasting

by Jacob Saltiel
hockey_night_in_canada
The announcement that Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole will be leaving TSN for Fox Sports West is a loss for Canada’s Sports Leader and for viewers of sports highlights in Canada. They were goofy. They approached their profession with a healthy dose of self-awareness and detachment. Listening to their recaps of games was like watching hockey with a particularly witty friend in a bar, especially so when they would shout “EVERYONE TAKE A SHOT!” as overtimes progressed to shootouts. Livening up the events of games whose scores are already known is impressive in this era of instant information and omnipresent vigilance by sports fans.

Onrait and O’Toole dealt with the mornings after, the post-party, the afterglow of the main event. While there are exciting play-by-play announcers out there (the excitable Christ Cuthbert comes to mind), the format for live events hasn’t changed much- and no, putting a former player or coach between the benches doesn’t count as a massive change, especially since the restrictions of broadcasting for a family audience prevents the reporting of cusswords, smacktalk, and abominable statements. Which leads nicely into the purpose of this post; several ideas, in no order of importance and with no regard to their practicality for invigorating the broadcasts of sports. Some may argue that sports requires no adornment- the competition is enough- but contemplate these possibilities and ask yourself if you would or could change to another sports feed…

1. An Uncensored HBO-style Channel for Sports
Let’s not pretend that our heroes are all clean-cut, churchgoing types who wouldn’t know the word ‘fuck’ if it happened to them. After all, there’s only one Jonathan Toews. Trashtalk, mindgames, and  frustration are part of sports as anyone who plays or watch knows. There probably isn’t any sociological proof to support this next argument, but it’s highly probable that nothing promotes the use and invention of blasphemy, scatology, and cussing at home like turning on a playoff game with your favourite team. Sure, HBO’s 24/7 series shows us this side of athletes, but only retrospectively. This should be live.

So let’s not just mic up the players to little effect. Who gives a fuck to hear 17 second clips of hockey players saying “let’s go, eh!’ and “I got hit in the arm, yeah, oh yeah, right in the arm”? Let’s find out just how hateful and transgressive our heroes are. There’s quite a bit of hate speech in that link, but these are ultra-competitive athletes- not gender theorists-and the recording of such quotations can only lead to tensions with journalists post-game, which will only lead to more copy about those encounters, and so on. Perhaps a public debate about issues arising from sports cursing and trashtalk could help the public to think critically on such issues. How come only fans standing next to Tiger Woods on the greens are treated to his language while viewers at home were told euphemistically what a competitor he was for all these years?

This will also allow for homer play-by-play and colour commentators to really give it to the home team when they suck. Sometimes a team’s backup goaltender really does play as if he had played right wing in the 2nd period, and the uneducated fans at home have a right to know exactly when, rather than being told that such-and-such player is struggling or fighting the puck. Negativity can dissuade people from sticking with a blow out though.

Which is why it should be paired with raging, hyperbolic optimisim…
2. More Homer Announcers
Some may wince at the headline to this section, but there’s method to this suggestion. Hawk Harrellson and Jack Edwards are obnoxious to viewers from outside of South Side Chicago or Boston, but their fanatical devotion to their team at the expense of their profession can be exploited to a different purpose. For games between hated rivals, let’s pair up the homer announcer of one team with the homer announcer of another. For example, at the next Habs-Bruins game, who turns the television off for a booth team of Jack Edwards on the play-by-play and Murray Wilson on the colour commentary? Or how about Mike “scratch my back with a chainsaw” Lang teaming up with Washington’s colour commentator for the next Caps-Pens showdown?

The tension in commentary could rival that of the tension on the ice. Combined with the 1st suggestion in this post, this could lead to Murray Wilson calling Jack Edwards a flaming sycophant on the air, with Jack Edwards probably responding to Wilson that he’s a jackass and a hack journalist. You’d be right to argue that this might detract from the focus on the game- and that’s exactly the point. Told to keep the bickering of their rival interpretations of what’s happening right in front of them for stoppages of play, this could mean less talk of getting pucks in deep, and more argument about which team is in fact diving more, or sucking harder. This can only make the telecasts more interesting. Besides, Canada’s state-funded channel’s cast of hockey experts includes an old man who hits a single with a Leafs’ player every decade, so let’s just go ahead and stop pretending the talking heads don’t like some teams more than others.

3. Stunt Announcers
With no elaboration necessary, Morgan Freeman needs to do play-by-play for the Penguins.
Will Ferrell is a Lakers fan and has appeared in a movie in which basketball happens. He’s even worked as an usher for evening at the Staples centre. Let’s give him the colour commentary for the Lakers, particularly in a mediocre season such as the one Lakers fans just endured. There are other combinations one can think of, but let’s not get too comfortable with the usual play-calling teams.

4. Abolishing Statistics That Don’t Make Sense
Yes, broadcasting for as many people as possible scares some channels from using complicated measures of performance, but that’s no reason to coddle the kids at home. Using wins and losses to say anything about a goaltender or pitcher is a waste of airtime, so stop wasting airtime when there can be cursing, recriminations, and celebrities freaking out for their teams. Keeping commentary misleadingly simple has the unintended consequence of keeping the viewers actually stupid. Anyone who enjoys talking about sports at the bar, in their living room, or on the street should be spared having to explain why junk stat X doesn’t support false argument Y. No one would be seriously injured if they didn’t have to hear the word clutch again. In relation to sports, what is clutch? Is it a metaphor? Where does it’s meaning come from if not the lemming-like repetition that keeps it alive? Enough!

5. Montages of the After-Party
The CBC already does montages of the playoffs and the actual sporting event, but once the trophies are handed out and final victory has occured, what happens next? Much of it is shaded in rumour and innuendo. In this era of sports media intruding on every aspect of a professional athletes life, how come there’s no access for the Bacchanalian debauchery that must follow glorious victory? Hell, viewers are treated to all kinds of boring minutiae of how rich the players are, or how hard they work out, or how philanthropical they are- why stop there? The CBC can’t detail one camera crew to the Stanley Cup celebration? As a compromise to the players and their agents, networks shouldn’t be able to air an unedited hour-long show, but a 5 minute music video consisting of the party thrown by the owner. Does anyone in our voyeuristic culture consider themselves capable of not watching this?

So, TV Networks, what are you waiting for? By the time you’ve read this, it’s been on the internet for at least 125 seconds. Get to work.

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