Friday, February 12, 2010

No, Thank You


Earlier this year, Conan O'Brien was given his chance to host one of the most valuable television programs in the history of the medium. It lasted nine months. If you're familiar, excuse the quick recap: NBC, winning the ratings game behind Leno's abysmal show for years, became panicked at the thought that he'd leave the network and compete with Conan's new show. And in one of the stupidest moves in the history of television, NBC decides to cancel all their programming from 10-11pm and give Leno a new show every weekday at that time slot. A show, it should be mentioned, that was somehow even more abysmal that his time behind the Tonight Show desk. It's impossible to overstate how fucking stupid this decision was, but I'll try: since NBC is using Leno's 10pm turd sandwich to save money (throwing Leno a few million is still hugely cheaper than funding an hour long drama), they made it known that ratings much lower than normal 10pm original programming are acceptable.

(Which is sort of like hiring a hooker but only for a$10 hand job and rationalizing that it's cheaper than the $100 you'd have to spend for sex, so the less-than-ideal result is okay. Because, the thinking goes, it's only ten bucks!)

So the problem is that the ratings are just as low as everyone thinks, and while NBC says they're within predetermined limits, what happens is that everything on NBC after 10pm starts hemorrhaging viewers. Affiliates complain loudly, because their 11pm local news programs are less watched than ever before, and Conan, with no lead in and still artistically finding his footing, sees his own ratings suffer. NBC, rather than doing the logical thing and abandoning the Leno show, fires Conan and puts Leno back on the air.


What, you might be asking yourself, does all this have to do with sports? Well, you impatient bastards, I'm getting there.

You see, the divide between Leno and Conan is really about mass appeal versus quality. Leno's Tonight Show perennially won the ratings battle against Letterman's far, far superior CBS show, and NBC was worried that the originality of Conan would be off-putting to the large audience of slack-jawed yokels who fell asleep while watching banality every night for years. Television must, for it to be profitable, appeal to a wide variety of people, and most of the time the highest-rated shows are outright awful - everything on CBS, for instance - while true quality programming oftentimes fails to find an audience. It's no surprise, then, that Conan got the shaft.

NBC is also the network that broadcasts the Olympics, which means that every two years when the Winter or Summer version comes around we're forced to watch the games through the confines of an America-specific, sap-laden, pre-taped, emotionally manipulative, drawn-out crapathon masquerading as sports coverage.

It's absolute and complete shit. It's especially worthless sports television, first of all, because for some reason as of yet unknown, NBC will continue to show everything on a tape delay. Which of course results in watching replays that NBC pads with interviews and soft-news type segments on various athletes. Live television makes poor hour-long dramas, but it's a necessity for sports (note that some of the events will be live on the East Coast, but the West will get no major events in daytime or primetime live, and I'm in Cali). With the Winter Olympics, this also means that we're beset with an onslaught of worthless "sports"- the biathlon, famous for combining cross country skiing and shooting, is a good choice for the worst Olympic event, but curling gets my nod. Even the more popular events, like figure skating or bobsledding, deserve contempt. Anytime the race is against a watch instead of a person beside you, it's inferior. You might as well go to a wind tunnel and award medals to the people with the best drag coefficients.

That's my primary problem with the competition aspect of the winter games: everything is timed or judged and then the lower or higher number is the winner. That sucks. It'd be like a baseball tournament using a pitching machine and a judge to award the winner based on their impressions of the team's swings.


There's also the weird racist/America-focused aspect of NBC's coverage. And if you think I've overstating things or exaggerating, I'm not. It means that these weird niche sports, like snowboarding or the ski jump get reams of attention for a few weeks every four years. Skiing, skating, hockey, that's pretty much the totality of the events. It's worth mentioning that the people who participate in those sports are usually pretty well-off and white, and while that isn't of itself bad it does mean the talent pool from which these participants are drawn is very shallow. Even more so than that, it means that excelling in a Winter Olympic sport requires a lot of a person that isn't within that individual's control. And I realize that generally that might be the case for a lot of Olympic athletes. But the chances are, if you're a world class runner, you'll get a chance to run regardless of where you're born. If you're an exceptional basketball player or a baseball phenom, geography and income aren't necessarily impediments to success in that field (Cuba might be the only word I need to say to reinforce that). But if you're a great speed skater, and you really better hope your folks have the money to buy you the equipment and give you the access to facilities necessary to train and practice. See, for instance, the one-man Ghana ski team. In the Winter Games, the Snow Leopard is a conspicuous exception to the rule.

It means that rather than Usain Bolt, the charismatic and preternaturally gifted sprinter who reshaped the track and field record books, the face of the NBC 2008 Summer Games was a goofy swimmer who raced the same distance like a half dozen times. If you think I'm overstating it, then figure out how many people swim and compare it with how many people run, and tell me what event in an objectively covered Games would get the most attention.

So, I'm boycotting NBC and the Winter Olympics. I'm not trying to tell you what to do or start a movement that'll catch on, most people my age or younger don't care and don't watch them anyway.

And not to belabour the point, because I'm reaching the end, but: Joy in Mudville was started so we could have a deeper discussion about sports. It certainly wasn't to listen to blandly attractive blonds spout meaningless sentences about...well, I don't know what she's talking about, actually. But this approach, where NBC will reduce an athletic competition to the sob story of an American participant, hurts my soul.

If you haven't started bleeding out of your eyes and ears (seriously: "It's the one pure thing that nothing can effect." What the shit does that mean?), watch the immeasurably superior BBC spot advertising the SAME THING:

It almost makes you weep for the short straw we've drawn. There might be a few cool moments of the Winter Games, I'll allow. I'll just have to find a BBC link to watch them.