CBS Ravens telecast has me screaming at the TV screen again

Lack of sideline reporting during Pitta injury inexcusable

September 21, 2014|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

I’m sorry, I tried to be good and accept life as a small-market CBS sports fan, getting the fourth-string crew and no sideline reporter for Ravens games.

And, you have to admit, I managed for a couple weeks to sound like a properly grateful peasant in accepting the crumbs from the table of CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. Did I not even say in one review that maybe CBS is right, it would be too expensive for the network to have sideline reporters on ALL the Sunday afternoon games — especially in markets like Baltimore?

Call it the Stockholm syndrome. Maybe CBS Sports kidnapped and drugged me while they were here for the opening night of Thursday Night Football on Sept. 11.

Whatever. I’m over it now. And I spent way too much of Sunday afternoon screaming at the TV screen and the fourth-rate coverage from CBS of the Ravens’ 23-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

Seriously, when Dennis Pitta went down, there was nothing more important than knowing what happened to him. That’s where the sideline reporter earns his or her keep — and the network earns the gratitude of fans. The reporter doesn’t have to be an expensive talent. All they have to be able to do is get reliable information fast and relay it to someone in the production truck who can get it to the fans. I have no doubt there were tens of thousands of Ravens fans like me holding their breath, hoping for any details.

But, because it is not cost effective by CBS Sports standards to have sideline reporters in games seen primarily in small markets like Baltimore and Cleveland, there was no one on the sidelines in Cleveland for CBS.

“Obviously, Solomon, we don’t want to speculate,” Spero Dedes, the play-by-play announcer, said to analyst Solomon Wilcots as the cameras showed Pitta — and Dedes proceeded to speculate.

“Obviously, there’s concern on the sideline...” he added.

Wow, you think? You wouldn’t be left with speculation as your only option if you had someone doing some real reporting down there at field level.

As is usually the case in such instances, I had to turn to Twitter, where sports reporters in Cleveland were providing me with information from the field and the sidelines about the injury. Tweets, not words from the guys in the CBS booth, were also the first to tell me Pitta was at a Cleveland hospital.

Really, with all those TV ads, CBS Sports can’t afford to give viewers what Twitter provides for free?

Sorry if that sounds self-serving, since most of those tweets were from print and online reporters like me. No wait, I don’t care if it sounds self-serving, it’s true and it makes the point: how little the viewing experience of the fan seems to count to networks and cable sports operations against their bottom lines.

But it wasn’t just the lack of a sideline reporter that had me screaming at the screen again. The audio mix was awful. I love to hear crowd noise, but it’s not enough to just crank it way up to the point where you can barely hear the analyst even when he’s talking (almost shouting) at the top of his voice. You have to mix and balance the sound, as I am sure everyone on the CBS production team learned in Audio 101. Why they forgot or ignored it Sunday is beyond me.

I couldn’t make out half of the early analysis from Wilcots unless I turned the sound up to the point where my dog, Bugsy, ran from the room howling. (In fairness, Bugsy was cranky all afternoon. I think he misses our Sundays with Dan Dierdorf.)

On a serious note, I liked the pictures. There were lots of field-level shots that gave me a sense of being in the stadium. And you have to hand it to Cleveland, they have even more strange-looking (I mean that in a good way) fans than Baltimore. The producers couldn’t get enough of the Dawg Pound and neither could I. Really, I want atmosphere in a telecast.

But, in the end, I want information more. And CBS came up woefully short on that Sunday.

McManus acknowledged in an interview with me last month that his position on the value of sideline reporters had evolved to the point where he now thought it a good idea to have them on “Thursday Night Football” and the bigger Sunday games.

Here’s hoping it evolves a little more, and we start seeing them on Ravens telecast — soon.

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