Tune in at your peril: It's time for Super excess

Media Watch

January 23, 1996|By Milton Kent

Our long national nightmare has begun: Super Bowl week is upon us.

Frankly, there is no week more loathsome on the calendar than the seven days that precede the Super Bowl, unless it's the week before a root canal appointment. Even then, you'd choose the root canal, because, at least at the dentist's office, you'll be anesthetized.

Doesn't it make you cringe when some idiot hypothesizes that the Super Bowl somehow provides a window into the American consciousness and explains who we are as a culture?

This once-humble game played by living, breathing people regrettably has become The Cosmic Event, the great American marketing event, where the participants are more endorsement vehicles than human beings and where the price and content of 30 seconds of commercial time is more important than the contest itself.

Need proof of the excess? Consider that officials at Arizona State University -- whose stadium will be host to the bloat of more than 2,000 media members and many more wannabes -- will close classes and keep students away from the learning that they and their parents are paying for at the end of the week to accommodate a sporting event.

I'll take Misplaced Societal Priorities for $200, Alex.

And what a sporting event it is. The games themselves have been lame, with the NFC winning 11 straight and 14 of the past 15. The average victory margin over that span is a whopping 21.9 points, and the actual competitive period of those games has been shorter than a Mike Tyson fight.

So why do we accept this overly hyped slop, year after year? Who knows? Maybe, for all the talk of keeping things simple, we really do like decadence and excess, which is on display during Super Bowl week, thanks to the NFL and the media, its grand co-conspirators.

Maybe it's time we said, "Enough."

Recognizing the inherent hypocrisy, and despite my better judgment, here's a guide to Super Bowl-related programming for this week:

On Friday, wrapped around NBA coverage, TNT will have "Super Bowl XXX Weekend Kickoff," which features a five-on-five flag football game with football legends at 7 p.m. and a historical look at the game at 10:30 p.m. Saturday's "Thirty Years of Super Bowl Greatness" will have presentations of league awards at 9 p.m.

HBO's "Inside the NFL" will air from Tempe, Ariz., on Thursday at 11 p.m., with repeats Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. CNN will have a crew of five reporters and analysts for "Sports Tonight" and Sunday's "NFL Preview" at 11 a.m.

ESPN is employing some 31 on-air people, including, for some unexplained reason, fitness maven Kiana Tom, to cover the Super Bowl among its television, radio and on-line outlets, with more than 115 hours of planned air time this week, a mere 50 or so fewer hours than NBC will devote to Olympics coverage this summer.

The highlights of ESPN's coverage include reports on every "SportsCenter," anchored by Chris Berman and Dan Patrick. On Friday, ESPN will carry commissioner Paul Tagliabue's annual smoke-and-mirrors State of the League address at 1:30 p.m., and ESPN2 will air each of the coaches' news conferences beginning at 10:30 a.m.

"Up Close," "Sports Reporters," "NFL Match-Up" and "NFL Prime Monday" (on Saturday) will all air from Tempe, the Super Bowl site. ESPN also will have a nightly one-hour "Super Bowl Live," starting Thursday at 7:30 p.m., which will focus on "the spectacle of the Super Bowl from the perspective of those playing in it, running it and living it," according to a network publicity release.

Wake me when it's over.

The puck stops here

It seems the grand experiment of "FoxTrax," the computer-enhanced method of puck location, paid off handsomely for Fox on Saturday night, as its telecast of the NHL All-Star Game got a 4.6 rating and 8 share of the audience in the Nielsen overnight survey of the nation's top 33 markets.

That's a marked improvement from the 3.6 rating that Game 4 of last year's Stanley Cup finals attracted, though here in Baltimore, Saturday's game limped in with a 1.6/3, the second lowest of the 33 cities, just ahead of Charlotte's 1.3/2.

Aesthetically, the concept of making the puck easier to see with a glow and comet trail was an overwhelming success, though, from this vantage point, the light-bluish glow selected by the network tended to blend into the ice, except when the puck was being played around the boards, when it appeared to be in the crowd.

Perhaps, for future telecasts, Fox officials could play up the color a bit more, though no one has ever accused the network of subtlety in the past.

Another Garden party

If you'll recall, Chicago's Michael Jordan hung what the kids call a "double nickel," meaning he rang up 55 points on the New York Knicks on his first trip to Madison Square Garden after his return to action last March.

TNT officials hope, no doubt, that tonight's game (8 o'clock) will draw just as well as last March's contest, the highest-rated NBA game in history.

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