I seem to have struck a nerve by complaining about ABC’s infuriating camera work during the NBA Finals, which was heavy on the close-ups and creative angles and light on showing fans what was going on in the ballgame.
“People complain about announcers more than anything else,” I wrote, if I may quote myself, “but if the networks would just show us the damn game, I suspect I wouldn’t be the only one who’d be happy to put up with any old announcer.”
My flooded in box tells me I got that one right. Not only am I still awaiting the first letter defending the artistic cinematography of ABC and all other American networks that televise sports, I’m also impressed at the way this subject gets people so het up that they can’t help themselves from TYPING IN CAPITAL LETTERS! I did it myself, in fact, in the original item.
I haven’t seen the “caps lock” key get this much of a workout since my last urgent request for assistance from the son of the late former Iraq oil minister.
At the risk of being flagged as spam, I’m keeping the caps, which I usually convert to the more elegant italics, intact, the better to convey the blinding rage that is apparently rampant in TV land. I did convert all multiple exclamation points — there were many — to one per sentence, in deference to astigmatic readers.
Mark Traylor: And I thought it was just me about those camera angles. Once again, you showed me I’m not so dumb. Thanks.
Tim Carnahan: Couldn’t agree more about the ABC camera work. I also wish they’d stop doing poorly timed interviews with fans in the stands. These inevitably seem to coincide with an important basket, or some other action on the floor. We totally missed Kobe Bryant’s technical foul [in Game 4] because of these theatrics. The problem is these new-generation TV crews are trying to tease out the “human” entertainment to these events by making us identify with each player as a person. That’s all fine and good, but it does nothing for me to look at a close-up of Kobe while a free throw is being shot.
Russell Pipal: While there’s a pause in the action, fine, you can show me all the close-ups you want. But while the game is going on, in any sport, I want to see the main camera view and that is ALL. No close-ups, no sideline view, no crazy camera floating on wires just above the playing field, nothing. You know if they could they’d have people with Steadicams running all over the courts like they did in the XFL.
Ryan Julian: My personal moment of rage was in the second half [of Game 4], when the Lakers were starting to psychologically fall apart, and Kobe gets a technical for arguing with a ref. The whole time the shouting match is happening, though, the announcers are still commenting on a replay. My wife about climbed the walls as I chucked an empty can of Bud at the tube, screaming “I wanna see it! I wanna see it! Show what is happening NOW!” Like you at the tipoff, my anger is multiplied when I cannot see the live action happening, but THE ANNOUNCERS ARE TALKING ABOUT IT! Something must be done.
Russ Allbery: Your mention of camera angles reminds me of another pet peeve. I don’t really care that much about how good (or bad) the announcers are so long as they don’t get incredibly annoying, but I do expect the play-by-play guy to actually TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON. This is particularly true in basketball where, unlike football, we never actually get to hear the official’s call.
When a whistle is blown and something is called, we often have no idea what’s going on until the play-by-play person tells us. Maybe they need to come up with a screen graphic to announce foul calls and other official whistles so that the nostalgia and stories of the announcers don’t have to be interrupted.
King replies: That’s a great idea.
Leif A. Fedje: Several weeks ago, I caught a bit of a mid-’80s Celtics-Hawks playoff game on ESPN Classic. It was basically a game of full-court H-O-R-S-E between Dominique Wilkins and Larry Bird, but the thing that grabbed me, pinned me down, and wouldn’t let me go was that there was only one camera angle: center court, from way up high. And it was incredible: You could see EVERYTHING. Every back pick, every cutter — everything. You could watch the point bring the ball up the court and at the same time see a center or forward establishing position on the block.
It especially beats the hell out of the “floor cam.” I mean, do the NBA and ABC/ESPN really think the average fan wants to see up players’ shorts?
Steve Bentley: Please don’t forget these other egregious trademarks of ABC doing basketball: 1) Showing, after some exciting basket, not the player on the court who did it, but a weird shot of a TV monitor at an angle showing the image of the player, even though the action is still underway. 2) Michelle Tafoya interviewing someone who happens to be on an upcoming ABC series DURING THE GAME. 3) Not to mention Al Michaels has apparently lost it, given that he is often wrong telling us who got the last foul, even though it was pretty obvious if you were actually watching the action.
Steve Bentley (follow-up letter the next day): By the way, I’m watching Game 5, and it’s 31-30 Lakers as Kobe just slammed on a breakaway. ABC shows a guy in a beard and a hat and sunglasses in the crowd, and doesn’t identify him. By the time it shows the floor, the Lakers have committed a stupid foul before the pass-in, but we didn’t see it, of course, because of the bearded guy. (I finally realized it was Jack Nicholson.) Michaels and Doc Rivers talk about it, but they still don’t show the foul.
Ian Westray: Baseball suffers far more than basketball. When I watched a game as a kid, they used to use a great “above home plate” camera angle that showed you — well, by goodness, it showed you the field. You could watch the infield and the outfield. Were they cheating in? Shifting for a pull hitter? You could see the blinkin’ runner on first, and the fielder trying to make him edgy.
Instead of a healthy diet of this basic, useful, interesting camera angle, what we’ve had since sometime around the ’80s is a montage of badly paced, disjointed close-ups. I WANT TO SEE THE FIELD. Could they find a way to give me a look at the freakin’ field please? Pro sports teams seem to change the in-game graphics for their broadcasts every year. If they spent half as much effort trying to improve the intelligibility of the game as they do devising new ways for the numbers in the score to flip over, I’d be satisfied.
Michael J. Barry: AMEN! How about Hockey?! When they (ABC/ESPN/etc.) do hockey they always go to that stupid “behind the glass at the end” shot when the puck is in the corner. YOU HAVE NO PERSPECTIVE FROM THIS ANGLE! It’s like watching from a fishbowl. Seven times out of 10 the puck comes out to the slot or the point WHICH YOU DON’T SEE UNTIL AFTER HE GETS THE SHOT OFF. What’s the point if you don’t see the play developing? You CANNOT do hockey from the ends. It gives no depth of field. And I watch in H.D.
And will someone tell the Red Wings to either raise the camera or move a seat so every time that guy stands up it doesn’t block the camera? It’s 2004 for God’s sake, and the network camera is blocked by a guy’s head.
Gary Seronik: Being a Canadian (though I presently live in the U.S.) and, naturally, a hockey fan, I tend to read only those columns that pertain to my sport. However, your column on ABC’s coverage of the NBA Finals caught my attention.
Hockey (and basketball, I presume) are fast-moving sports and can be tough enough to follow even with the one main coverage camera, but when viewers are constantly pulled out of the play so that the director can exercise his artistic flare (or whatever he thinks he’s doing), we can’t help but get lost. This is something the hockey crews who work for the CBC understand completely — maybe because it’s televised hockey since before the Earth cooled. Yes, maybe the CBC isn’t “creative” with its camera work, but at least you can follow the game.
I’m not kidding when I say that shifty camera work is one of the reasons why hockey doesn’t sell down here below the 49th. I’ve been watching hockey my whole life but even I have a hard time following the play when the game is broadcast down here. Maybe that’s why, as you pointed out once before, hockey is perceived as something that only works “live” in the stands. Growing up with good hockey broadcasting in Canada, I actually believed it was better on television!
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