The TV Trials Tuesday, June 26 (not rated)
With no track telecast to look at, I watched an hour-long telecast of the Olympic Swimming Trials (also on NBC), and I was amazed at how slick and well-organized it was. I found myself saying, “Hey Channel Four, Channel Four is beating your socks off!”
Mostly, that’s because televising swimming is much, much, MUCH easier than televising track and field.
It’s like the difference between shooting at a fixed target and shooting at a moving target.
In swimming, you only have seven or eight athletes to keep track of, and all they do is go back and forth in a 50-meter pool. Furthermore, they’re moving slowly enough that you can easily see who’s leading and where the other swimmers are.
There are a lot of technical touches, such as displaying each entrant’s name lane by lane n big letters at the bottom of the pool – so if you’re cheering for a particular swimmer you can zero in on that lane and see how your favorite is doing. That’s a helluva lot better than just showing a “card” with the lanes and names displayed in black-and-white.
In addition, one of the most important differences is the easygoing give-and-take between announcer Dan Hicks and expert commentator Rowdy Gaines. They’ve been doing swimming together – Trials and Olympics – since 1996, and it shows. They’re a couple of knowledgeable pals working together to help the viewer. You might almost say, they speak as one.
But while one commentator can do it all in swimming, it takes at least three for track and field – Ato for sprints, Lewis Johnson for 800 meters and up, and Dwight for field events – because the differences really justify different commentators.
And for whatever reason, the track-and-field announcing team doesn’t present the same warm buddy-buddyness as do Hicks and Gaines. Maybe it’s just the fact that they’re not all on the air at the same time. If so, perhaps a two- or three-minute schmooze at the top of the telecast with all four together on screen would make them seem more like a team.
But as NBC’s late, great Charley Jones used to say, “Of all the sports I’ve announced on television, track and field is by far the most demanding.”
Check NBC’s swim coverage this evening and see what you think.