Sunday, December 21, 2008

I've had it with Football Night in America

Okay, I can't stay silent anymore. I can't stand NBC's Football Night in America. When NBC took the Sunday night slot away from ESPN I liked a few things about the deal such as the flexible schedule that gave us better national games late in the season but when the contract essentially killed the far superior wrap up show ESPN NFL Primetime, I was pissed but decided I'd do the mature thing and give NBC a shot at this type of show. 
It's been several years now and I think it's time to stop holding out hope that they will fix this wretched hour of television. I have to speak up. NBC, you suck at this.
First off, you gotta decide what you are - a pre-game show or a highlight show for the day's games. I'm like most people in the country - I have a life. And that means I can only afford the time to watch one, maybe two games on a Sunday if I am lucky. Unfortunately on most Sunday's there's a long list of other things I need to do and don't even get to a single game.
That's where you come in. We all need a show that fills us in on the day's games. That should be your first priority. And do me a favor, stop treating highlights as something you have disdain for. Every game you recap includes somebody's team. No matter who they are or how meaningless to you that game might be. Nothing irks me more than when you gloss over a game you think is boring or unimportant by showing one, maybe two highlights and moving on.
Second, please cut the sarcasm. I don't know what happened in the game and don't need you making fun of the game that I'm sincerely interested in knowing about.
What I want from your highlights is an understanding that I didn't see the game, am interested in it and want you to tell me about it in a compelling way. Where's the drama? Where's the build up? Could you at least put together enough highlights to tell a story?
Also, every game has meaning to somebody and in some way. Maybe a player has a chance to set a record for tackles, maybe its the last meeting of the year between two long rival coaches, maybe there's a playoff spot on the line. Wouldn't you think that that warrants telling the story of that game with a little drama?
When you read through every miniscule highlight package (why are they all so short!) by making fun of all the plays, you convey the fact that you really don't care for this sport and think doing a comedy routine is far better television. You're a football show!
I thought you guys were journalists? 
Third, enough with the stupid magazine style player profiles, interviews and league news packages. Save those for during the game. You will have plenty of stoppage of play points to throw these things in. Shift Peter King to inside the game, too. I've gotten into the habit now of skipping to the 15 minute point of your show on my TiVo so I don't have to sit through this drivel and can get right to the highlights.

I know you think you are sick of people telling you about how much better NFL Primetime was but clearly you aren't listening. Yes, Chris Berman and Tom Jackson are better than you (and no, more players and news readers aren't making your show more compelling). NFL PrimeTime gave each highlight package a sense of drama and suspense. They described the plays like they were the biggest games of the year and Tom Jackson provided great insights into the thinking of the players and the coaching mistakes he saw and delivered them succinctly.
ESPN also peppered their highlight packages with compelling stats from the game that really ratchet up the value.

All you do is insult every other team. Lions suck, let's make fun of how inept they are. Kansas City can't seem to win, what losers. Enough. Chris and Tom explain why these teams are struggling and suggest ways they can get better. Instead of simply showing how Indy pulled off another incredible comeback they show complete drives that made the difference and talk about position players that help explain why they are where they are.

Enough already! You guys need to remove about half the personalities on the show. Fire Dan Patrick and Keith Olberman, hire a true sports enthusiast who has a passion for the game rather than for his own witty prose and get the players involved, during the highlight package, not have them jaw at each other and pontificate from the cone of silence. 
Dedicate at least 10 more minutes per show to the highlights and show us that you care about the games and fuel our passion with compelling delivery and did you know facts that make us wish we'd seen all the games and are super glad you could bring them to us. Right now, I'd rather wait until 8:45 PT, cut away from your game and catch a real highlight show during SportsCenter.

ESPN, you're not blameless in all this either. Get some cohones. Dedicate a full hour to Chris and Tom instead of weaving them into SportsCenter. Chris and Tom are your A players on football highlights yet half the games are conveyed by the very inferior Sunday crew of news readers. I'm sorry, but they aren't even close to being as compelling And like NBC, I often find myself wondering if they even like football. 
Sure, you lost the coveted 4pm PT timeslow NFL PrimeTime occupied for years but for a good recap of the day, I will totally wait until 8, 9 pm PT to catch your show. I know that's close to midnight for the East Coast but that's the contractual hand you were dealt. Make the most of it.

Roger Godell, if NBC won't fix this problem, you should step in, for the benefit of your league. No one, outside the news media, is ever going to successfully catch every game on a Sunday so you need a strong, compelling highlights show to keep the passion and excitement brewing.  

Here endeth the rant. Someone please, please answer my Christmas wish.

Friday, November 28, 2008

3D is no longer a gimmick

Last weekend we went to the premier of Bolt in 3D and have to say, this is a whole new era for animation. Unlike previous 3D movies such as the dreadful Chicken Little and the cheesy Journey to the Center of the Earth. Bolt doesn't stick the technology on as a gag or an after thought but instead is crafted entirely as an immersive world that plays an essential part in the storytelling. 
I was blown away by how realistic the settings were, especially a quiet scene between Bolt and his cat companion, Mittens, in the Nevada desert. Every blade of yellowing grass and dirt covered hill is perfectly rendered with depth and movement. I found myself fully immersed in this world like nothing before it. And the best part was that it wasn't distracting but enriching.
Unfortunately this fantastic, fun movie debuted opposite the teen sensation Twilight, so it missed its mark with audiences. But don't let a disappointing opening weekend keep you away from the theater, this is an experience worth having.
Bolt is essentially Toy Story with dogs. It's about a white German Shepherd puppy who grows up in Hollywood playing the part of a canine superhero until one day he escapes from the fantasy world and into reality where special effects and stunt men don't exist thus robbing him of his specialness. Half Buzz Lightyear and half Woody, Bolt's on a mission to get back to his "person" and does so with a cast of wacky sidekicks including a cynical cat and a very overstimulated hamster named Rhino (voiced brilliantly by animator Mark Walton). 
But comparison's aside, Bolt has a wonderful script, some exciting, hilarious and heart-wrenching scenes and some of the best dog vs cat jokes this side of Bloom County.
Perhaps the saddest part of the experience was that we went at 8pm on a Saturday night and the theater was maybe 30 percent full. Sure, Twilight was one factor but another clearly had to be the price - $13.50. Theaters are charging $2-3 more for the 3D film. 
Personally I'm having a hard time justifying $10.50 for most movies these days but I think this new immersive 3D experience is worth the price. It actually brings back a unique value of the theater - until this 3D experience comes to Blu-Ray, that is.  
Before the film were a string of previews for upcoming 3D animated films including the hilarious trailer for Pixar's latest coming next summer, called Up and the predictably black humorist Ice Age 3D. It's a short imaginative story - as we've come to expect from John Lasseter's crew (he had a hand in the writing of Bolt, too, BTW). The best part of the Up preview, is the joke at the end. I was laughing out loud.
Dreamworks has a 3D feature on its way too, called Monsters vs. Aliens. Judging by the preview it seems to lack the heart of Bolt or Up but the rendering appears to be equally as engaging.
Here's hoping for more 3D animated films in the future - and a home version.

The PAC-10 Needs to be 12

The Pac-10 needs to expand to twelve teams.
As an avid Trojan fan (and alumnus) I couldn't be happier with the team, our fabulous coach and our consistent and stellar recruiting. But I've had it with the Pac-10 conference. Thanks to the oh so accurate BCS process, strength of schedule plays a big factor in who ranks where and every season 'SC is saddled with a low rank here due to a weak conference.
I know a lot of people will argue with me that the Pac-10 is actually a very good conference and I will admit that it certainly has a storied history and has had lots of good teams over the years. You can also certainly make the case that the conference isn't close to weak in other sports but in the big money sports of football and basketball it lacks the caliber of play of the other major conferences.
But the bigger issue is actually the number of highly competitive teams and its lack of a conference championship game. 
Think about it. The Big 12, the ACC and SEC have enough teams with relatively consistent competitiveness to provide each team in the conference with the chance of playing 4-5 ranked opponents during their conference schedule. And when that isn't the case, they at least have a conference championship game providing another opportunity against a ranked opponent (most of the time).
The Pac-10 and Big-10 conferences end their seasons early and if only one team in the conference is ranked, that team suffers from weak strength of schedule. This year's big sufferer is Penn State who has already ended its season with very few ranked teams played and nothing ahead to keep them top of mind with the pollsters. It will be six weeks until we see them again and if Oregon State goes on to win the Pac-10, it will be a pretty weak game for Penn State (who already beat OSU, soundly). 
Thankfully, 'SC stretches out its schedule into the second week of December so it has a chance to show its stuff to the rest of the country all the way through the big conferences playoffs, but through tradition, plays a weak UCLA as its last hurrah. Oh yeah, and thanks Notre Dame for keeping up a tradition of excellence. 
The conference could put on a playoff with the existing format pitting OSU and USC in a rematch and giving both teams another ranked opponent but this wouldn't address the main problem - lack of enough competitive teams in the conference. 
To really address its problems, I suggest the Pac-10 expand to 12 teams. And do it by adding teams deserving of a BCS conference. 
Now doing this right means picking two teams that play west of the Rocky Mountains (sorry, Notre Dame), that consistently excel in multiple sports (sorry, Boise State and Gonzaga), have relatively large national followings and can bring a new rivalry to the conference. The best candidates: BYU and Utah. Both have consistently strong athletic programs, are consistently ranked in the top 25, are fierce rivals and at least for BYU have a very strong national following.
Sure, adding teams from Utah will increase the travel budgets for all Pac-10 teams but the caliber of play will increase and the pressure on the weaker schools to step up their game will be welcome.
I'd love to fix the BCS but given that the geniuses that run college football can't seem to get it through their heads that they would make more money with a full playoff system, Let's at least fix things for those of us on the west coast.

Some Kind of Great Opening Sequence

My TiVo recorded a classic 80s movie for me the other night that has one of the greatest opening sequences in movie history. It was Howard Deutch's Some Kind of Wonderful, one of the lesser regarded films written by John Hughes, the author who tapped into the teenage psyche of that era.  What's great about this opening is that with nothing more than the pulsating beat of Abuse by Propaganda the basic story is laid out. 

All the teen movie cliches are presented: The dirt-under-his-fingernails kid from the wrong side of the tracks (showing him literally cross the tracks) who walks forlornly past the home of the pretty girl romping in her bedroom with the spoiled rich kid who's rebelling in his own way with her because she's just barely on the right side of the tracks. All the while the rebel girl pounds away on her garage drum set keeping beat with the music. You hear her story purely in the visuals. You see her torn jeans, black Doc Martin boots, torn white t-shift and red bandanas wrapped around her hands. 
What a classic way to establish all the main characters and waste no time or dialogue setting up the story. 
It's not a great movie -- it's actually a gender bending remake of Hughes true classic, Pretty in Pink -- but the dialogue is vintage Hughes.