NBC, keeping sight of picture, makes play the thing

Media Watch

January 29, 1996|By Milton Kent

It could have been worse.

The rampant egomania (two Deion Sanders commercials) and self-congratulatory tone (the Diana Ross halftime show) of the Super Bowl could have been flat-out insufferable in the hands of any other network than NBC.

And that's not to say that NBC, presented with a whopping television audience, didn't indulge itself more than once.

To be sure, virtually every show on the network's prime-time lineup got at least one promo, and what was billed as an update during the pre-game show was not even a cleverly veiled promo for its basketball and tennis coverage.

Even the locals got into the act. Channel 11 didn't miss an effort to get a station ID panel up on the screen at any time, even over NBC's graphics. And did we really need that news update, in which all three stories just happened to have, surprise, surprise, Super Bowl themes?

Thankfully, for most of the time, NBC pulled back at the precipice of hype and presented last night's contest as just a football game, keeping it as simple as this game could be.

In truth, we shouldn't have expected anything less. Since CBS lost the NFC package two seasons ago, NBC has inherited the mantle as the oldest and best NFL telecaster.

Last night's contest was not quite up to the brilliance of the AFC championship game, but that had more to do with the drama of the contest, rather than the level of effort on NBC's part.

NBC was all over everything from start to finish, with all the pertinent pictures and graphics from a game that teetered between blowout and nail-biter.

Thanks to 29 expertly placed cameras, and yeoman work from producer John Faratzis and director John Gonzalez, NBC was able to track every move and had a replay when the moment called for it, though we really could have done without the animated packages on the girth of the Dallas offensive line, Pittsburgh quarterback/receiver Kordell Stewart and Sanders.

In a game as big as the Super Bowl, the little touches get easily lost, yet it was the tiny things that helped make the telecast enjoyable.

For instance, rather than use still picture panels to identify players, NBC filmed brief ID shots that made the Dallas and Pittsburgh competitors seem, well, human. Leaving the pre-game show inside a booth rather than out and among the stadium rowdies was a nice touch. Greg Gumbel's presence in the Cowboys' locker room was also an inspired move, as he asked all the right questions.

The booth work of play-by-play man Dick Enberg and analyst Phil Simms was solid, if not spectacular. Neither was at the very top of his game, as they were two weeks ago, but that's still better than anyone this side of Pat Summerall and John Madden.

However, Paul Maguire, who many considered an afterthought addition to NBC's No. 1 analyst team after Simms was pried away from ESPN, emerged as a bona fide star, with a sterling performance.

Maguire was informative, funny and feisty, establishing a tone right off the bat, when he jumped on the Steelers' play-calling when they ran the ball twice after pledging to open up their offense .

You had to get a little scared during the opening of the pre-game show, as NBC traced the game through the larger events in the last 30 years of American history.

It seemed like we were careening down the old pretentiousness highway without brakes, but pre-game producer Ricky Diamond wisely eased off to present a program that told solid stories about the game and its participants.

Most of the 2 1/2 -hour pre-game show was interesting, with emphasis on Bob Costas' probing feature with former Steelers quarterback Joe Gilliam, a drug addict who now wanders the streets of Nashville, Tenn., a good jargon-free game analysis from Joe Gibbs and a solid opening feature on the two previous Cowboys-Steelers Super Bowl meetings.

But the show was at least an hour too long, even granting that advertisers were willing to pay $400,000 to $600,000 for 30-second spots to get in on the Super Bowl gravy train.

The commercials were, frankly, a desultory lot, save for the Pepsi spots with the guy freezing his tongue on the can, and the Tylenol ads, in which three defensive stalwarts advise Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George to endorse the painkilling product in advance of all the pain he'll be suffering in the pros.

On the radio side, it might be time for CBS Radio to consider replacing Jack Buck and Hank Stram, who used to be a solid alternative to the television call.

Now, however, there are far too many embarrassing gaps in Stram's delivery and Buck, for whatever reason, has developed a nagging habit of describing a play without identifying the player unless it's the quarterback. On game MVP Larry Brown's first interception, he didn't get named until he had run out of bounds, some 30 yards after the run.

Finally, if we know nothing else from the halftime show, we do know this: Nobody loves Diana Ross as much as Diana Ross loves Diana Ross.

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