Show Me The Damned Game!, By Ron Morris


COLUMBIA, S.C. --- My voice is still hoarse from screaming during the recent NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and it had nothing to do with the officiating or my rooting interest in any team involved.

Time and time again I caught myself yelling at the TV screen. Most of the time my pleas were for whatever network was televising the game to “SHOW ME THE DAMNED GAME!!!!”

I fully understand that the networks are appealing to a broad audience during the tournament, in much the same manner that newspapers long have practiced dumbing down the news to the lowest common denominator among readers. TV wants to lure in the entire spectrum of fans, from the generally not interested to the casual observer.

As a result, we get loads of cheerleader shots, fan shots, parents shots, coaches shots, brief player features during free-throw attempts and scene shots from hometown bars. To those of us --- admittedly, a minority --- who just want to watch the game with no frills, it becomes extremely frustrating.

After a player sinks a free throw, I want to see if his team is setting up in full-court man-to-man defense, or perhaps pulling back to three-quarters court zone coverage. Many times, I never know because the camera is scanning the crowd or zooming in on the sideline attire of one of the coaches while the ball is being advanced in the backcourt.

I admit to knowing little or nothing about a basketball game’s production for TV. As a fan, though, I do know exactly what I want to see while watching a game on TV. I want to see the game, first and foremost.

I get the impression that TV producers, as the tournament advances to later rounds and particularly during the Final Four, are much more interested in winning awards than in giving viewers the best look at the game. In other words, production over the past few years has trumped function.

That is never more apparent than with networks use of camera angles.

The beauty of basketball on TV is that the game is played in a confined area of the court, unlike baseball where varying dimensions call for the need of many camera angles, or football where the field is so large one or two cameras cannot possibly keep up with everything.

One sideline, midcourt, halfway-up-the-stands camera could be used for basketball and I would never complain. A viewer could see the entire game, the entire court and never miss a play by using that one camera angle exclusively.

That obviously is not good enough for TV producers, and boy do they love to show off all their cameras and weird angles.

Let’s start with the camera located on top of the backboard to show action at the opposite end of the court. For the life of me I do not understand why this shot is so appealing to producers. Yet three, four and sometimes five times a game we are forced to figure out what the heck is going on at the opposite end of the court. Given a choice to purchase tickets from that camera angle, most folks would choose instead to watch the game on TV . . . except for the times when a producer decides to punish us for turning down those seats.

Then there are free-throw attempt camera angles. Good grief. It seems like every free-throw attempt during a game is shown --- or missed --- from a different angle. There are the baseline shots, the sideline shot, the top-of-the-backboard shot, the behind-the-shooter shot, etc. Sometimes the viewer gets to guess whether the free-throw attempt was successful or not, judging by the reaction of the players on the court or the change in score --- or not --- of the on-screen graphic.

Once the Final Four begins, the TV production gets a bit more complicated for viewers. The camera on a wire seems to work well for football, but is nothing more than a distraction for basketball viewers. Our eyes are trained to watch a game from a stationary position. A sideline camera that moves up and down the court is annoying, at best.

This year, CBS also added a camera that rolled along the baseline. In concept, it was pretty cool. In practicality, it was laughable. It showed us nothing, unless you wanted to figure out what brand of shoes the players were wearing.

Add it all up, and you get the impression TV producers really do not want us viewers to actually watch the game. So, unfortunately, I will be forced to continue screaming at the TV screen while giving a whole new meaning to March Madness.


  « Back