Show us the damn dead people!

Academy Awards viewers get a little taste of the kind of coverage sports fans loathe.

By King Kaufman

Published February 23, 2009 5:20PM (EST)

Welcome, movie fans, to the world of television sports fandom.

I've been reading the letters section of Heather Havrilesky's Oscars recap and it seems the commenters are up in arms about the hyperactive camera work during Sunday night's tribute to filmmakers who died in 2008.

In case you got tired of watching previous winners toss verbal air-kisses at the nominees in the major acting categories and tuned out, the usual series of clips and still photos of the departed flashed in sequence on a giant screen onstage, but rather than showing that montage to us great unwashed, the Oscars producers treated us to a swooping, diving camera zooming in and out on the actual onstage screen.

On a TV screen smaller than the side of a jumbo jet, it was impossible to read the captions and see who was what. We all recognize Paul Newman, but who was that cinematographer?

Movie fans, this is known around here as "Show us the game!" Also known as "Point the camera at the ball!"

We've been shouting it for years at sports broadcasters who give us arty shots of ballgames, ground-level shots from which you can't tell who's doing what to whom or where, long shots from the rafters that really put you, the viewer, right there! At the game! In the crowd! In the worst seat in the house! From which you can sort of see that some ant-like figures are running around willy-nilly in the neighborhood of the horizon line.

If it's any comfort, movie fans, you should know that while you hate this technique, the people in the TV business love it because it's edgy, which is a magic word in the entertainment biz, and because it's probably hard to do. That swooping trick shot of the giant screen, for all its uselessness, was quite the technical achievement.

It costs a lot of money to look this cheap, Dolly Parton once famously said. It takes a lot of skill to make television that bad.

King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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