In my nearly thirty years producing sporting event telecasts I engaged in a constant battle with many of the men and women wearing microphones. My side of the fight proudly used the battle cry, ” less is more, let the pictures tell the story, shut the hell up.”
The other side retorted, “we need to set the scene. We played the game, we’re the experts. We are the eyes and ears for the viewer.”
In my mind I won every argument and I left production meetings absolutely certain I had gotten my point across. Then we hit the air and the folks wearing the headsets mutinied. Almost every single time i’d spend minutes on end repeating a mantra, “shhh, shhh, shhh. Hush. Stop talking. Shut the F up!” It drove me crazy as a producer. It pisses me off as a fan. My advice to every single announcer comes in the form of a challenge. Watch your favorite sport or favorite team as a fan and I dare you to not yell at least once at the man or woman on the other side of the screen to shut his or her pie hole. Do it, try it, I dare you. Unless of course you’re lucky enough to watch Vin Scully! Then just sit back and enjoy.
Good commentary should indeed set the scene, provide information to help clarify or explain the situation and advance the story. What good commentary does NOT do is tell us something we can see with our own eyes. TV is a visual medium, if you want to do radio play-by-play, go work in radio. I often told a colleague, good friend and great broadcaster to think about what he was going to say, not only the actual words but whether or not what he was about to say added anything to the story. Then use 20 per cent fewer words to say it. “Talk 20 per cent less” should be painted above the monitors in every announce booth at every sports event in America. Even that percentage, for some “talkers”, wouldn’t be enough.
The best in the business know they are at their best when they are NOT talking, either letting the players speak for themselves ( in golf ) or the moment speak for itself ( in every sport ). The best in the business are few and far between. I guess the rest don’t know any better or just don’t care. Fans and viewers don’t need or want a baseball play-by-play person to tell us that pitch “was off the plate” . We’d prefer a golf announcer not think they have to tell us “that putt came up a little short”. I have eyes, I have a 60 inch, big screen, HD TV with a sound system that I don’t use because you can’t shut up.
The events these days should be more informative with the sound up. Sadly many are better enjoyed on mute. What these ubiquitous “pronouncers” (as a famous producer used to refer to them) don’t seem to understand is that when they constantly run their mouths, we the viewers, the fans, get cheated out of the experience. Their bloviating takes center stage and the chatter of the players, the roar of the crowd, the rustling of the leaves, the whistle of the wind, gets shoved aside.
When you go to a game do you want some washed up, once upon a time .220 hitter and his broadcasting school graduate buddy sitting in the seats on either side of you blathering the whole time? When you go to a golf tournament do you want a retired touring pro and an 8 handicap with perfect hair right behind you yapping every second? Of course not. You’re like me, you just want to watch the game or the shot. Why is that so hard for tv people to understand? Just let it breathe once in a while.
The great Don Ohlmeyer once broadcast an entire NFL game using NO announcers. I used a similar blueprint for a golf broadcast a few years ago. Both things should be attempted again, more than once. I understand that approach could put people out of work but I don’t care. This isn’t about too many people making too much money while they ruin my viewing experience. This is about preserving the rights of the fans, the masses. Give me back my game!
I used to scream “Please shut up” all the time in the truck. Now I say it from the comfort of my couch. Very few listened then, nobody listens now.