Commercial overload is ruining pro football

MEDIA MONITOR

January 08, 1991|By Steve McKerrow

Regular readers may have deduced that Media Monitor is not the biggest fan of football on television. A sickbed dose of NFL wild card playoff games over the weekend (on ABC and CBS) helped clarify why. Doesn't anybody else have the following concerns?

Aren't there now actually more minutes of commercials than game? Football is a stop-and-go affair to begin with, given all those huddles and time outs, but it is obvious when on-field breaks are called because of pending TV ad breaks. In one game (we forget which), both teams were already lined up on the ball ready for a play, when the referee whistled and home viewers saw what seemed like 17 straight ads before the snap.

Is the instant-replay the worst invention since oat bran bagels? Once amusing because it allowed viewers to see when officials blew a call (or got one right), the TV technology is a part of the game. But the multiple replay/review breaks slow things down further (although allowing more ads). Worse, the TV eye can challenge everybody's perceived reality, as in Saturday's Redskins/Eagles game when it seemed Philadelphia's Ben Smith had run a fumble back for a magnificent touchdown. Everybody on the field believed it, but the TV review reversed the call long minutes later.

And speaking of officials, are announcers somehow enjoined from criticizing the refs? The worst example was NBC's John Madden, a guy who never hesitates to slam a player's gaffe, in Sunday's Bears/Saints game. But when a line official called a questionable offsides late in the game that nullified another sharp play, the apparent tying touchdown runback of a blocked field goal, did Madden even hint this was a pretty petty call?

In sum, the wild card weekend presented NFL football as a supremely sluggish and underplayed yet over-produced, over-officiated and over-dramatized affair. Hmmm. Doesn't that sound a lot like those other TV sports, roller derby and pro wrestling?

*

AS THE SEASON TURNS -- With viewers obviously unmoved by much of the networks' fall fare, it seems a public service to call attention to some underappreciated shows in hopes they will not be thrown out with the bathwater. A case in point is "Law & Order" on NBC (at 10 tonight, Channel 2).

Something like the 1963-64 "Arrest and Trial," this often dramatically persuasive show has cops investigating crimes early on and lawyers prosecuting the cases thereafter. And tonight's case hits pretty close to the news, involving the bombing of a clinic by anti-abortionists. Prosecutor Stone (Michael Moriarty) must reconcile his personal opposition to abortion with his job of pursuing those responsible for the bombing.

Tune it in. The show deserves better than its ratings rank of 40th for the season.

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