TNT hosted a conference call with reporters Feb. 8 during which NBA analyst Reggie Miller, who has experience with All-Star Games, referred to the upcoming exhibition that his network will televise as “a glorified pickup game.”
The same day, without a trace of irony, TNT sent out two press releases: one announcing its plans to air 19 hours of All-Star Game-related programming from Feb. 17-20; and another promoting 95 additional hours of digital and video content on NBA TV and NBA.com, including “T-Mobile Magenta Carpet at NBA All-Star 2011,” a two-hour awards-style arrival show hosted by Maria Menounos of "Access Hollywood" and NBA TV analyst Rick Fox.
Gee, just imagine how much time TNT would have devoted to the All-Star Game if who won or lost, you know, actually meant something.
That’s quite a lot of attention for an event, as Miller acknowledged, with as much significance as six guys going shirts and skins on any local playground. Yet we long since have become accustomed to a sporting landscape in which overkill is the order of the day — and the simple idea that less ever could be more is rejected out of hand.
Indeed, the new philosophy seems to be a variation on an old beer commercial, namely, “If you’ve got the time (or even if you don’t), we’ve got the sports.”
Under CBS and TNT’s new deal to share custody of the NCAA basketball tournament, every game will be televised in your market — a blitz spread across four channels: CBS and Turner-owned cable networks TNT, TBS and TruTV. In addition, staggered start times will provide viewers “the ability to watch more live game action throughout the day.”
Admittedly, having more TV coverage is preferable to guys crashing their companies’ servers watching online at work. Yet the idea that every game has to be available is a classic illustration of the new “We do, because we can” school of broadcasting (or rather, narrowcasting).
While TNT is responsible for part of this hoops explosion, ESPN surely has led the way in overkill, from its multiple-day coverage of the NFL draft (“Cincinnati is on the clock now!”) to this month’s 10 hours of NCAA football letter-of-intent signing.
No offense, but if you spent more than 15 minutes watching where 17- and 18-year-old kids will be attending college seven months from now, I suggest finding a serious relationship — or at least a hobby — that doesn’t involve someone inflatable.
The tradeoff, or price, for all this lavish coverage is that the host networks wind up insinuating themselves into the events. In the case of All-Star Weekend, that means TNT’s Kenny Smith and Chris Webber will serve as “dunk coaches” to the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Washington’s JaVale McGee during the slam-dunk competition.
Having watched Griffin play some this year, let me assure you, the one thing he doesn’t need is advice on how to dunk.
The bottom line is such wall-to-wall coverage hasn’t sprung up because of newfound demand, but rather because of a change in the TV landscape. Dedicated channels devoted to specific niches, whether it’s basketball or gardening, have all the time in the world to fill, so the welcome mat always is out, for die-hard fans or casual grazers, any time of day.
Yet at the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes" — an old crank grousing about new-fangled gizmos, like email — such advancements don’t necessarily represent a step forward. In television, after all, the term “special” grew out of “spectacular” — something that was supposed to be an event, which by its very definition is singular and rare.
However, events have given way to “weekends,” and five days’ worth of material (if you add up the TV and digital content) focusing on what even the host network concedes is just an exhibition game — one that’s over in three hours, but in which nobody plays defense until the last four minutes.
No doubt All-Star Weekend will yield a few high-flying highlights. But in terms of TNT’s cornucopia of coverage, the net effect might be simply to lose sight of the actual game amid the glare of all those lights.