Archive for the ‘usa network’ Category

last call for USA

September 5, 2008

If only we could get CBS to step aside…

As great a tournament the Open has been this year, when considering the event in its entirety, you’ve got to start with the coverage (the face of the event, after all). I don’t know if it’s because of the conventions, but I’ve been more conscious of how the tournament has been delivered to me this year than ever before.

In case you haven’t heard, this is USA Network’s last year covering the Open. With its bevy of weaknesses aside — I’ll get to a few in a sec — can we just say thank god for USA’s day and weeknight coverage? CBS’ work might not be different from years past, but the grating horn section of their intro and outro, the overexposed light, Mary Joe’s pre- and post-match interviews, Dick Enberg — how much of it can one take?

Thanks for the relief, USA, but here are a few things your replacement can improve upon:

– When Mueller and Davydenko were 9-10 in the fourth set tiebreak, the producer switched over to the start of the Andreev/Federer first set tiebreak, despite McEnroe’s request to stay put. (They did show the end of the tiebreak on tape, but the piss had been taken.)

– The night-match guests invited to join Ted Robinson and John in the booth really tested our patience and sanity: the Ryder Cup captain left me yawning and Boris Becker’s visit felt bloated.

– McEnroe and Jim Courier both have good and bad: Mac offers great insight and passion until he eventually devolves into his usual self-aggrandizement, occasionally revisiting earlier top form. Courier gets major points for his latest insights, my favorite being pointing out that guys ranked in the 80s in the world could be starters on an NBA team (a sentiment I’ve been aware of for a while). On the other hand, he’s still Mr. Smug.

By the way, I’m really intrigued by all the personal bits that Courier alludes to in his commentary, so I’m asking my readers for the latest info on this man: is his Manhattan apartment a duplex? penthouse? both? What kind of art does he collect? What Rosetta Stone tape is he currently working on?

Hope you enjoyed USA’s last night of coverage, and that CBS doesn’t give you too much of a hangover.

Michael Shaw writes about tennis and other subjects for the Los Angeles Times and is also an artist. He can be reached at michaelshaw_sar AT yahoo DOT com. Read his previous posts for TSF here.

thank god for usa network

September 5, 2007

Thank god for USA Network. In their decades of covering the U.S. Open, they’ve settled into a style that’s worlds better than CBS‘ (such a relief!). They also keep it consistent and simple: no unnecessary graphics; minimal “comeback kid” or “on the rise” profiles; ample servings of quality matches not involving Americans; a nice sampling of play (i.e., they’ll cover those outer court, low-Q-rating matches in the first week); and they take air breaks of very reasonable length — essentially just enough to cover the changeovers.

The Commentators:

  • Jim Courier — Wow. Where does one begin? With Mr. Courier, it seems we have a perfect balance of pros (brilliance) and cons (hubris, arrogance). Let’s start with the pros: here’s a guy who can back up the goods. Not unlike Johnny Mac, he also has tremendous access to the players and makes good use of it. He’s smart guy, surprisingly articulate, and occasionally makes insightful cultural references.

    But the true bonus with Jim is his tendency to deconstruct tennis broadcasting: “I’ve just been told I can’t say ‘hot chicks’ anymore,” he said the other day in reference to a comment about Safin’s former box-sitters. Or “I’m being told I need to wrap it up,” he’ll say, I’m sure to the great chagrin of his producers. Novice? Yes. Novel? Definitely.

    Another example: the other night, after a long post-match analysis from Jim, host Al Trautwig asked if he wanted to keep going, upon which Jim said, “Okay. Can I read your prompter?” This brashness with which Courier tears down the fourth wall is quite a breath of fresh air.

    He even got into it with Tracy Austin, insisting that Radwanska, who upset defending champion Maria Sharapova, used gamesmanship and broke the locker room code of ethics in attacking Masha’s second serve. Austin countered that this brashness is just the way players are today. Courier’s apparent anger, verging on hostility, brought a little verité into the USA Network booth.

    All that said, Courier is far from perfect: quite often he is the epitome of smug. “Let me tell you how much I know about this; and let me also tell you how much I know about that,” he seems to be saying. He’s passionate — which of course is important — but when he continues to expound deep into a game without stopping, he’s cut off his nose to spite his (and our) face(s). One wonders whether Courier has spent any time reviewing tapes of his broadcasts; if he does, one hopes that he’ll notice his tendency to ramble. Once he corrects this, we may have a truly great player-cum-commentator on our hands.

  • Tracy Austin — All designer business suits (bright blue ones, no less) and mind-numbing, somewhat grating patter, Austin has milked her playing days into a commentary career like a character on The Surreal Life. (Racqonteur gives her a C-.)
  • Al Trautwig — Nice deep pipes and always solidly on-the-ball, Trautwig is the best studio host USA has had. His transitions are impeccable and I’ve never seen him falter in improv mode. A weakness: in his one-on-ones, he doesn’t allow the interviewee much time to respond. But at least he keeps things moving.
  • Michael Barkann — This long-time roving reporter is great at what he does, and far too often it’s a relatively thankless task: I wouldn’t want to be interviewing players who clearly don’t want to be interviewed (which seems to be the case before every Ashe stadium match), but he does it (though I’m fairly sure it wasn’t his idea). He’s also accomplished at the mostly heinous celebrity-in-the-crowd interviews, an equally unenviable task that he manages to get done (thankfully there have been few of them thus far in ’07, though we were horrified to see him sit down for a long exchange with Donny Trump during the Ferrer-Nadal match). He’s at his best doing the roving reporter thing, perhaps throwing in a quick exchange with a fan or two.
  • Ted Robinson — Almost no complaints; there is nothing about Ted that’s not to like. He has a great memory for past matches and players; he keeps things moving but doesn’t ever seem to talk too much; he throws out some relevant anecdotes when things on the court are a little slow; and he knows how to keep it brief at crucial periods in a match. His one downside, which has been minimal at this Open, is his tendency to set McEnroe up for patting himself on the back, which he (Mac) clearly doesn’t need any help with. Still, overall Robinson is a key fixture for USA’s coverage. (add Ted’s blog to your reading list.)
  • Bill Macatee — he’s substantially better here than on CBS. He’s a nice, dry, straight man with an ample smidgeon of personality. Easy enough to tune out, or in, as is appropriate.
  • John McEnroe — Hey Mac: keep the focus on the match and the players and off yourself, and we’re all good. Has the way that Mac has been doing a little biographical digging, and age comparing (is Hyung-Taik Lee the oldest player left, or is Moya?) shown signs of maturing? Heaven forbid.

(photo of Courier by mugley)

Michael Shaw is currently following the Open from his couch on the West Coast.

RELATED POSTS
>> TSF’s u.s. open archive
>> michael shaw archive

sketches of the open’s humble broadcasters

September 5, 2007

Those of us neither out in Flushing, nor subscribers to extremely high-end satellite packages with live feeds, are ultimately resolved to endure CBS’ weekend coverage. As green as TTC proved to be in covering their inaugural slam at this year’s French Open, one perversely hopes that they’ll gain enough leverage to buy out CBS’ Open contract.

NBC is not without substantial guilt for its own slam (RG and Wimbledon) coverage, but the combustible pairing of a major network and its home (okay, American) slam leads to far too much spoon-feeding of emotion and drama, akin to the worst of a Hollywood movie.

We as viewers are savvy enough to bring our own sense of meaning to any given match or storyline (and, if there isn’t one, then we can always fast-forward). Serious tennis fans can really do without the amped-up graphics, schlocky promos, and sentimental broadcasters, not to mention the three-to-one ads-to-tennis ratio.

It was quite a jolt adapting from USA’s coverage to that of CBS’: what with the eye strain adjustments to deal with all the bleached out and overly sunlit footage. (Can’t they just use the same filter that USA does?)

And whoever decided to greenlight those pre-match interviews should be hung.

Hey, at least the CBS commentators are a relatively known bunch.

  • Bill Macatee — basically innocuous, with an even more sterilized persona than on USA.
  • Mary Carillo — she’s her usual effervescent and laugh-happy self, a solid and colorful voice, if at times a bit too harsh. (It’s hard to erase the memory of her referring to Davydenko, back when he was ranked #3, not only as “the most anonymous #3 player in the world ever,” but also as “a total mook”.)
  • John McEnroe — Mac has become familiar enough in the booth that he’s not too hard to tune out, or at least tune down. Mac can bring brilliant analysis to the table for any given match, which he deserves credit for, but his overall vibe gets watered down by an ego untethered and run amok. Somehow the CBS dynamic doesn’t allow him quite the forum for inevitable self-aggrandizements.
  • Patrick McEnroe — P-Mac’s commentary is overall equal to John’s, if only because he’s more consistent and doesn’t indulge in his own accomplishments (perhaps just a function of having far fewer than his brother?). His pairing with Mac for the Nadal-Tsonga match was both fun and efficient. His broadcast voice has come off as a bit thinner than it has on ESPN.
  • Ian (pronounced EYE-en) Eagle — not only a capable but even an enjoyable play-by-play guy; newest to the team. It’s a shame he’s been relegated to something of a transition host with minimal air time.
  • Dick Enberg — give this guy an opportunity to sentimentalize, and he’ll take it and run. He’s actually a fine commentator, but over the years most of us have gotten more our fill; and, within the confines of CBS (Enberg joined ESPN’s Aussie Open coverage last year), it all feels just that much more mainstream.

Up next: a look at USA Network’s coverage.

(photo by artnwine1)

Michael Shaw is currently following the Open from his couch on the West Coast.

RELATED POSTS
>> TSF’s u.s. open coverage
>> michael shaw archive


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