ABC entices TV viewers, but leaves them wanting a better show

MEDIA WATCH

Super Bowl Xxxiv

January 31, 2000|By Milton Kent

If the first half of yesterday's Super Bowl was a collection of near-misses for the St. Louis offense, the ABC telecast of the game, from pre-game to conclusion, was equally imperfect.

The network turned in a professional effort, certainly no worse than Fox's performance last year, and the second half was stellar.

But you just felt that the broadcast should have been better.

Start in the Georgia Dome announce booth, where play-by-play man Al Michaels and analyst Boomer Esiason tripped over each other throughout the evening.

In most football broadcasts, it's the analyst who is given free reign to operate, on the theory that the time between plays is his to operate. Yet, Michaels, as talented a play-caller as exists, seemed so intent on telling stories or explaining the play himself that he limited Esiason's occasions to do what he needed to do.

Esiason did make the best of his opportunities, noting, for instance, that the Rams' failure to take advantage in the first half gave Tennessee a chance to stay with its game plan, which was to give the ball to running back Eddie George.

The two of them were right on the mark on George's fourth-quarter touchdown run, when his knee appeared to touch the ground short of the goal line, and their by-play on whether the Titans should have burned a timeout early on their final drive was good.

The normally brilliant duo of director Craig Janoff and producer Ken Wolfe had an unexpectedly slow start, missing, for example, the snap of a first-quarter field-goal try because they were in a replay.

In the second quarter, Janoff called for a shot of Esiason and Michaels in the booth to illustrate why the presence of Titans safety Anthony Dorsett was hurting Tennessee, while a penalty was being explained on the field. Later in the quarter, viewers could hear Esiason asking if the commercial they were coming out of was a 30-second spot.

But Wolfe and Janoff settled in nicely, with timely second-half replays, including multiple perspectives of the George touchdown run that illustrated that the play should have been blown dead inside the 1-yard line, as well as a number of looks at Kevin Dyson's try for a score on the game's final play.

Most of the four-hour pre-game show was worthwhile, though the show could have been an hour shorter and still good. Jimmy Roberts' piece on Dan and Claire Marino's adoption of a Chinese girl was Emmy award worthy, and "Good Morning America" anchor Charles Gibson scored solidly with interviews of the opposing coaches.

Chris Berman, the best of the football pre-game hosts, did nothing to tarnish that reputation, moving things along crisply, while Steve Young, the guest-host San Francisco quarterback, showed that, with a little polish, he could be a solid addition to someone's studio show. Berman got off a great line at the half, comparing the Titans to middleweight fighter Vito Antuofermo, who could lose rounds closely and still be in the fight.

However, there were gaping holes in the show, which took on a far too self-congratulatory tone for the league.

For instance, while Robin Roberts correctly pointed out that Fritz Pollard, the first black quarterback and coach in NFL history, came on the scene before civil rights pioneers Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, the piece conveniently neglected to mention the NFL's paltry efforts to hire black coaches since.

Indeed, the pre-game show of the league's showcase event would have been a perfect time for NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to field questions about issues like that, but the closest viewers got to hearing Tagliabue were comments from the commissioner's wife as she helped to fix up a house.

And every woman should be embarrassed for the inclusion of "The View," the network's all-female daytime chat fest, in the pre-game.

Roberts and Lesley Visser, who both looked like they wanted to be anywhere else but on the set, were stuck with the show's five hosts as they discussed the posteriors of football players, then leered at New York Giant Jason Sehorn. One can only hope that Visser was joking when she asked Sehorn if he got his job because of his looks.

A few things need to be said about the commercialism that permeated the proceedings. It's understandable, given the size of the audience that ABC wanted to cash in the day's promotional opportunities, and having nine title sponsors for the pre-game show proved that.

But the Disney synergy was way out of control, especially with the presence of singer Phil Collins, whose songs form the backbone of the soundtrack of the movie "Tarzan," which gets released to video tomorrow.

The best commercials of the evening seemed to be the Mountain Dew spots with the quartet spoofing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and where the guy on the mountain bike runs down a cheetah to get a can of Dew back.

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