From the couch: Play beat the clock

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Brian Lowry

A media columnist and critic for Variety since 2003, Brian Lowry spent seven years at the L.A. Times and has contributed to both NPR and TV Guide Network. He writes weekly for FOX Sports. A UCLA alum, Lowry proudly attended the '95 title game. MORE>>

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ABC will premiere the second season of “Shaq Vs.” beginning Aug. 3, the program that gives basketball star Shaquille O’Neal a chance to square off against other luminaries in their chosen fields. Although this time, it’s not strictly about sports, with cooking (against Rachael Ray!) and competitive eating among the challenges. The show isn’t so much “recommended” as noted – another example of how what once would have been dismissed as drunken bar bets can now become prime-time series.


Lance Armstrong is a historic athlete and even better story (seven victories at the Tour de France, overcoming cancer, doping allegations) so checking out his last competition seemed almost required. Still, sitting through hours of cycling — not exactly one of my top-of-mind sports — didn’t sound particularly appetizing. What to do?

Fortunately, CBS provided the answer, airing a one-hour special July 25 recapping Tour de France coverage from the cable network Versus, which has all the time in the world to kill.

The program was wildly overproduced, with dramatic music and photography that aped "The Amazing Race." Still, tuning in offered a significant taste of the Tour — the showdown between eventual champ Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, Armstrong’s various on-the-road setbacks, the wrecks and pile-ups — that did convey an appreciation of its grueling and perilous nature, without having to sit through all three weeks and 2,300 miles. Heck, I even learned there’s such a thing as “vicious acceleration,” as one announcer described Schleck’s aggressive uphill surge.

So many sports to watch, so little time. Yet the time-crunching service CBS delivered is regularly available to viewers with TiVo or another DVR, as well as a willingness to bend conventional time to meet their TV needs.

Stage 11 and beyond

Take a look at the best images from the Tour De France.

Watching sports, after all, represents one of the world’s great time-killers. Be honest: Haven’t you been there, wasting empty couch calories, as it were, on games in which you have positively no legitimate interest? Any college football watcher has occasionally been left wondering why he is killing a Saturday tuned to Texas Tech or Auburn when he has no allegiance to either. On the West Coast, there are those dreaded Hawaii home games, which kick off about 9 p.m. and are still playing when you get home late on a Saturday night — providing something live to watch before nodding off and braving a hangover.

More than a third of Americans now have a DVR, and most have figured out how to time-shift programs. Teenagers and young adults in particular are remarkably adept at using technology to multitask, literally squeezing additional hours of media consumption into their days.

Sports, however, have largely been immune, because people are understandably less likely to delay live events.



If you have a question or comment for Brian, submit it below and he may just respond.

Though I wouldn’t dream of suggesting people zap through a favorite team, for a casual game, surgical use of the DVR is a great way to trim the fat. I first discovered this accidentally, when I received a call and froze an NBA playoff game. Catching up to real time by zapping through fouls, ads and free throws, I viewed the entire third quarter in about 20 minutes.

Just think of applying this philosophy to your weekend viewing.

Long-winded halftime shows? Gone. Announcer blather and heartwarming human-interest features? History. Long commercial pods? Buh-bye. (Keep the remote handy, though: Some of those 30-second spots are well worth watching.)

Years ago, I asked an extremely successful executive who was 30 years older than I am how he managed to juggle so many activities all at once. “That’s easy,” he said. “I stopped watching sports.”

For most of us, that’s doubtless a drastic solution, given the pleasure happily derived from lazy afternoons with the beloved big-screen; still, boiling down optional events to the rough duration of the Kentucky Derby certainly has advantages, and as Armstrong has demonstrated, there’s more than one way to win the race against time.

So instead of just spinning your wheels, TiVo, anyone?

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