This week's On the Media was a great window into professional sports, from the league-sponsored networks (as in "This Halftime Show sponsored by the NFL Network") bringing up conflicts of interest that boggle the mind of anyone who believes in a firewall between advertising and editorial, to the effect of video football on the real thing, to a fascinating look at NFL game broadcasts.
The most interesting fact revealed was from a Wall Street Journal study determining that during the course of a typical NFL game, only 11 minutes is devoted to live play. In fact, in the course of a broadcast--which usually lasts almost three hours, ostensibly covering an hour of actual play--an average of 56% more time is devoted to replays than to live field action.
The genius is in the editing. Bob Fishman is a game director for CBS Sports, and he says he wishes he only had to work 11 minutes for each game, but in fact his very long Sunday is what brings viewers what they see when they seem something other than what takes up most air time: former game greats offering their backslapping perspective on the game, the ads, replays aplenty, cheerleader T&A shots, the ads with talking babies and the hot racing chick for GoDaddy.com. (Go Danica, I say, for taking some of that endorsement bank away from the backslapping boys' club.)
The important thing, Fishman states, is the narrative, which he ultimately orchestrates through rapid-fire direction through the course of the game in choosing which cameras cover which plays. The reactions to a play from the players involved, the coaches and the fans are what humanize the game and makes it compelling. Fishman is like a Bobby Fischer of football, seeing "everything" on the field, according to a staffer. A terrific Atlantic profile on Fishman tells us that his first major production assignment was the Apollo 17 moon launch in 1972 asd concludes with this assessment of the game director: "...he would be the same place he is every week for millions of football fans all across America: behind the curtain, lodged deep inside our brains." So in the end, it's less about the game than the story. For a change, a news story finally leaves me less rather than more cynical.