Further extracts from a series of columns I wrote for The Age newspaper, entitled Lost in Transmission, about sport coverage on TV and radio from 2008-2010.
It’s the stuff I still thought was funny out of that run, occasionally with a word or so changed for clarity.
This one covers the columns from the first third of 2010.
The dates underneath each excerpt are those of publication.
At the third test, Mark Taylor remarked that he was going to try to “project ahead”. Well, it’s relatively unusual that anyone would attempt to “project” in the opposite direction, but there would presumably be a much better strike rate of accuracy in so doing.
Following the conclusion of play on day three, Mark Nicholas joined the general future shock melee, and invited his fellow panel members to “give your synopsis for tomorrow.” That was setting the bar fairly high. A synopsis is a summary, pretty much, and it’s notoriously difficult to summarise something that hasn’t happened yet. It’s possible that the word he was looking for was “prediction”. There’s a few of them going around.
Mark is usually on safer ground with summaries anyway. For example, when Nine’s coverage returned from the ad-break with a montage of smiling Australian players pleased with their efforts in the current test, Nicholas summarised, “Happy pictures of Australian players who are dominating this test match.” A faultless synopsis there, and we’d no doubt be lost without him.
Over at the Sydney International tennis, reliable old “JA” was mustard-keen to take on this whole prediction business. With Marcos Baghdatis about to serve for the first set against Richard Gasquet, John Alexander opined, “I get the impression (Gasquet) is catching up to Marcos, and it’s going to be a tricky game to serve out the set.”
Of course, Baghdatis blasted through his service game to victory like he was double-parked. The only point he lost was a blooper into the net. Such predictions are one of tennis’s most dependable comedy standbys.
Unfortunately JA didn’t have a great deal more luck doing what Mark Taylor might call “projecting into the present”. Noting a peculiar phenomenon on screen, he remarked, “If you’ve got sharp eyes, you might think that’s rain, but they are bugs.” Mere seconds later, he adjusted the assessment, noting, “And we’ve just been told they’ve been joined by rain.” Err, yes, it certainly did look like rain, rather than bugs.
Recovering almost immediately, he assumed the familiar, smoothly confident JA delivery, and assured us, “That’s the rain we’ve been expecting.”
Yeah, sure, apart from those of us who were expecting bugs.
Tennis commentary is nothing if not educational. A little later, Todd Woodbridge’s colleague at the Australian Open, Nicole Bradtke noted of Svetlana Kuznetsova:
“She can get a little bit laxadaisy (sic)”.
It’s some sort of flower that promotes regularity, one imagines. Others might have suggested the player was lackadaisical, which would have been a far less revealing insight.
Speaking of education, earlier in the day, during the Rafael Nadal-Philipp Kohlschreiber match, Jim Courier and John Alexander were putting on a veritable clinic. Coincidentally, this may well be what some viewers need access to if the gentlemen concerned continue to be quite so educational – i.e. a clinic.
Jim Courier explained to us that the smash was tennis’s version of the slam-dunk. One anxiously awaits his interpretation of tennis’s equivalents to the three-pointer, double-dribble and the lay-up.
Jim also educated us that in tennis, someone always has to win the last point, and that there are no victories due to a competitor being ahead when time elapses. His conclusion from this brain-boiling theoretical maelstrom was, “There’s no such thing as a safe lead in tennis.” Well, yeah, but at two sets to none and 5-0 up, you’re probably going to think you’ve got a sniff.
Strength of will. Sheer determination. Merely two of the typical air-hockey expressions tennis commentators habitually employ to tell us nothing much about tennis.
At the Australian Open women’s final on Saturday night, no-one displayed those qualities more than than the Seven Network, which resolutely repeated its famous party trick for a second year running, and wheeled out Sandy Roberts for commentary duties on a grand slam final.
And Sandy, still brushing the vapour from his network blazer’s lapels after freshly stepping off the time machine, was, as ever, up to the challenge.
“A match that’s going to be won above the shoulders,” boomed Sandy, with all due plonk and circus-pants.
The question that lunged to mind was “How far above the shoulders exactly?” Sadly, this remained unanswered. The roof was clearly open, so presumably the sky was, quite literally, the limit.
A great champion knows when to “turn up the heat” – more time-honoured verbal confetti there – and Sandy Roberts was a radiator burning on all three bars.
“The first few games obviously will be important,” mused Sandy reflectively. “Whether that determines a pattern remains to be seen.”
Well, presumably winning games is always important in tennis, whether early ones or the ones that come so late that the other channels have switched to home shopping programming. You’d think it’s impossible to win a match without winning games, for example.
Of course you could import yourself a hotshot tennis analyst for much the same result. As Jim Courier opined, before the match, “I think it all comes down to the first set.”
Hmm, so winning the first set can be important in a best-of-three-sets match. That’s pretty fancy thinkin’ there, folks.
There was something of a “back to school” feel to Seven’s resumption of AFL coverage with Friday night’s pre-season match between West Coast and Essendon.
To some extent, both Dennis Cometti and Bruce McAvaney took on the role of mustard-keen Phys Ed teachers, keen to praise the efforts of all concerned. The expression “well done” got enough of a workout at one point to suggest a barbecue had been set up alongside the commentary booth, and the commentators were yelling out steak orders for the crew.
Bruce graduated to headmaster a little later and announced that it was a beautiful night, a wonderful crowd and a terrific match, all in the one sentence. It presumably took an act of sheer will to stop himself running out on the playing field to deliver trophies and ribbons to all and sundry.
Unscheduled comedy highlight of the night came during the post-match interview with Nic Naitanui. Although applying himself admirably to the questions, Naitanui appeared to be severely inconvenienced by some disagreement between his shorts, his underwear and his person, resulting in more crotch-grabbing than Michael Jackson managed in his entire 1980s heyday.
As Dennis Cometti duly summarised, “So, a young man quickly coming to grips with AFL football.”
Apparently school’s out and the Cometti is back in session.
During Ten’s Saturday Night coverage of the historic Sydney-Carlton match in Blacktown, the topic of discussion was sometimes the football match itself, although the commentators weren’t always fanatics on that score.
Pre-match, Stephen Quartermain bowed to the advanced geographical knowledge of Robert Walls, the latter explaining that the venue in Blacktown wasn’t, in fact, in Blacktown. It seemed that, technically speaking, the fob pocket-sized stadium was located in Rooty Hill, although Walls was at pains to add that Blacktown was located quite nearby.
One could only surmise as to why the AFL’s first major step in plonking the square peg of Australian Rules football into the round hole of the western Sydney area was instead billed as hailing from scenic Blacktown. One would have had to surmise, in fact, since the commentators failed to elaborate on the subject.
Rooty Hill is certainly a catchy name. Perhaps it was thought to be a name with certain linguistic connotations, ahem, that some might rudely exploit, in making light of the AFL’s great western Sydney experiment.
No such base cynicism was entertained on Ten, where we were informed that the general area played host to 50 different cultures, and was renowned as a “strong family area”. Whether this referred to the mafia, the Manson Family, or a group of genetically-related power lifters, remained unspecified.
One gathered that the major point being made was that it was a locale where all different races and creeds lived together in astounding harmony, busying themselves entirely with first making families, then tending to them, and, ultimately, repairing screen doors on the weekend.
Any connection between this idyllic vision and the likelihood or otherwise of consistently attracting people to AFL football matches in the area seemed tenuous at best.
“It was a special moment for me as a commentator,” noted Eddie McGuire during Saturday night’s Winter Olympics wrap on Nine, no doubt cleaving to the heart of the issue regarding Lydia Lassila’s aerial gold medal performance.
Of another competitor, Eddie later remarked, “She never snubbed the media – every time she came off the mountain, she spoke to Tony Jones.”
Well, what choice did she have? She could hardly have mustered enough provisions for an indefinite stay on the mountain to avoid him.
Early in the night’s telecast, (but not so early that “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” couldn’t air in prime-time first), Eddie McGuire and Leila McKinnon both took pains to comment on their lack of specialist knowledge in the field of figure skating, immediately preceding remarks to the effect that “you could just tell” a South Korean competitor was clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Or, in Eddie’s telling phrasing, that the others were merely “scrubbing the ice” by comparison.
For those viewers to whom one “twizzle” tends to look much like another, this represented an astounding quantum leap in the expertise of the hosting duo within a matter of seconds. Quite frankly, with them there, you wonder why the IOC bothered with judges.
Thanks to Channel Ten’s scheduling of a late-breaking “Simpsons” movie from 2007, Foxtel was halfway through Saturday night’s Noah’s Ark Trophy clash between St Kilda and Fremantle before Ten got a single kick to air. On the other claw, Ten had more footage of the striking new water-features dotting various parts of the Etihad Stadium environs, where the outdoors had very much become part of indoors.
With what there was of a crowd jammed exclusively into the stadium’s lower level for safety reasons, and the scoreboards turned off for good measure, the atmosphere seemed reminiscent of the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song. “No phones, no lights, no motor cars, not a single luxury/Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s primitive as can be,” you could almost someone singing.
Actually, the commentary team made a pretty fair point there – is it a scoreboard when it doesn’t have a score on it? Dwayne Russell suggested that in those circumstances, it was just “a screen”. However it wasn’t screening anything either. I guess that made it just a board.
Indeed, the commentary flavour of the day was logic, as it turned out, and as the punch-line of a very old joke goes, it might not have been good, but there was certainly plenty of it.
Gerard Healy boldly posited that the glory of the nine-point “super goal” concept was that it could inject life into an otherwise “dud” game, adding that he couldn’t understand the resistance to incorporating this innovation in what many of us – although certainly not Gerard – might term “real football”.
By the same logic, maybe we should randomise things a little further and install trapdoors in football ovals to swallow members of the leading team. Maybe the AFL should wipe the scoreboard clean at three-quarter time in lopsided matches. Admittedly, on this occasion, Mother Nature had beaten the AFL to it.
When it comes to pay TV’s sporting eccentrics, no-one consistently out-weirds the “extreme sport” channel, Fuel TV. And, on Fuel TV the proverbial jewel in the clown is undoubtedly the Lingerie Football League, inarguably American Football’s most inexplicable off-shoot.
Picture a game played by 14 women in two-piece swimwear, and tassels, and ribbons, shoulder-pads, and helmets, with everything else exposed to the naked eye.
There’s no kicking at all, except for a kick-off – the indescribable trajectory of this perhaps indicating why there is no kicking – no goalposts, and no one in the arena.
Saturday’s telecast game between the Philadelphia Passion and the New York Majesty – fresh off the satellite from last October – had a particularly poignant moment for connoisseurs of great sports-entertainment disasters.
While the players took a time-out, the stadium PA blared Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days”, as the camera panned with an unwinking eye around innumerable banks of seating entirely unoccupied by spectators. One felt that “The Carnival is Over” by the Seekers would perhaps have been a more apt musical choice.
There was no great difficulty in following the game. Philadelphia quarterback Jackie Danico would throw the ball to running back Tyrah Lusby, who would then score a touchdown. Occasionally, for the sake of variety, Danico would throw the ball to wide receiver Tabby Haskins, who would then score a touchdown.
The New York team had more problems than simply dealing with an opposition player named “Tabby”. A new coach had instituted new plays, leading to a certain amount of, well, anarchy. Indeed, quarterback Krystal Gray found herself in the position at team huddles of first having to give the code for the play, and then having to explain the play in encyclopaedic detail anyway. This presumably doesn’t happen quite so often in the NFL.
The resulting confusion led to one memorable incident in which Gray took to the line for the next play, unaccompanied by her teammates who were still all back in the huddle.
Not that players were necessarily the only ones somewhat at sea. At one point, an on-field official announced a penalty for “Too many men on the line”. Given the outfits, he just can’t have been paying particularly close attention.
Noted commentator Tom Dore, “First game for some of the officials here – struggling with some of the finer points of the rules.” And other technicalities, apparently.
Saturday night, A-League grand final, Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC, and the fans, the Fox Sports commentary team, the coaches and the players were ready to go, as match commentator Simon Hill and special comments man Robbie Slater set the scene with a crisp volley of top-drawer clichés.
“It all comes down to this,” noted Hill. “It’s a promoter’s dream,” insisted Robbie Slater.
Well, maybe. It’s not exactly Floyd Mayweather Jr v Manny Pacquiao. By comparison, it’s arguably more of a promoter’s pleasant night’s sleep.
Hill described Etihad Stadium as “a cauldron of people”. Perhaps that would be termed a cannibal promoter’s dream.
Simon Hill bemoaned the early injury to Archie Thompson, twice referring to him as one of Melbourne’s “talismen”, thus thrillingly introducing a new plural form to the English language. (Archie Thompson & The Talismen – great name for a 1960s beat group.)
Half time analysis mostly centred on who would be “the happier of the two coaches”. Frankly, in any such competition, if we were going on facial expressions as an indicator, just about anyone would get the duke over Ernie Merrick. You’d give Pim Verbeek or Charles Bronson a fair shake.
Robbie Slater commented that Sydney had “slightly dominated the midfield”. I don’t know about “slightly dominated”. It seems akin to expressions like “narrowly thrashed”, or the famous medical diagnosis of being “slightly pregnant”, i.e. impossible.
Fortunately the introduction of actual goals in the second half injected a note of urgency to proceedings. As Simon Hill put it, “The atmosphere is rising.” Luckily they have a sliding roof at the Docklands to nip that kind of thing in the bud.
Ten minutes into extra time, Robbie Slater was forced to admit, “It’s gone back to a stalemate, hasn’t it?”
While board-game analogies are always welcome, it seems the various chess federations have long since had their work cut out for them on this one. In chess, when the position reaches stalemate, the game is over. Stalemate is a lot like trying to watch “The Comedy Company” in 2010. You can’t go back to it.
In SEN’s pre-game show on Saturday, David Schwarz mystifyingly referred to, and I quote, “The inch between truth and reality”. Many of us less thoroughly versed in the field of philosophy might struggle to define the distinction at all, much less know why it hasn’t yet been converted to the metric system.
The opening round’s football calls frequently resembled an undeclared verbal sprint race to come up with the most dated cultural reference possible.
Tim Lane made an extremely strong bid for the silverware with his pre-game reference to the Swans as a “modern-day Foreign Legion”. No doubt this evinced great nostalgia and delight from the thousands of Swans supporters who fondly remember seeing the famous “Foreign Legion” side of 1933 running around – 77 years ago, that would be now – back when they were called South Melbourne and you had to watch the matches on the radio.
However it was the redoubtable Rex Hunt who locked the trophy away with a bold vintage vaudeville reference to the effect that if you tried to “do a Houdini” too often, you’d end up drowning. Many of his new Triple-M listeners may well have assumed that “doing a Houdini” was a reference to a body-part so arcane that even Dr Peter Larkins hasn’t got around to ascribing a debilitating injury to it as yet.
During Foxtel’s coverage of West Coast v Port Adelaide, Alistair Lynch said, of a Jay Schultz effort, “That’s a catch, not a mark.” Since a mark is, necessarily, a catch, and Schultz’s catch certainly resembled a mark, the distinction seemed perilously fine, to the point of being entirely resistant to detection by the layman.
In the same match, Glen Jakovich remarked of an unsuccessful defensive attempt, “That’s the importance of holding your feet.” Well, a player might be said to hold his ground, or keep his feet. The “importance of holding your feet” presumably mainly resides in avoiding injury while cutting one’s toenails.
The market leader in footyspeak aggravation at the moment may well be “vision”.
In various games on Saturday, different commentators made reference to a player “having vision” (i.e. of the play, not some remarkable insight into trends in human civilisation), to another “leading in the vision of the ball carrier”, (presumably as opposed to the less effective strategy of leading where his teammate couldn’t see him), and a particularly mysterious reference to “the umpire closest to the vision”, which sounded like the poor fellow was experiencing some sort of paranormal episode.
Media industry jargon has unfortunately gifted football calls with “the vision” as this lunchtime’s official “cool cat” reference to the visual component of television coverage. This will start to make sense around the time that any of the hip-hop kids in the booth start referring to what is picked up by microphones as “the hearing”. Any of “video”, “images”, or “pictures” would probably get the job done.
A more unusual problem of terminology arose in Matthew Campbell’s phonetic description of a member of football’s prolific clan as “Selwood Eye-Vee”, which tended to suggest the player in question was undergoing serious medical treatment. It’s usually pronounced “four”, anyway. As he’s a football player rather than a movie sequel, those tricky Roman numerals are perhaps best avoided.
Foxtel’s Jason Dunstall favoured Sydney Swans v Richmond with the memorably unlikely preview: “The stage is set for an enthralling contest tonight.”
Had he suggested the SCG “stage” was set for an ice-dancing interpretation of “Macbeth” incorporating famous Disney characters, he could hardly have been more fanciful.
Match highlight was a rare gaffe from the reliable “gold standard” of the Triple-M calls, Dr Peter Larkins: “It’s a mute point.” Not really, Doc. For one thing, we heard it.
You have to give Ten’s Stephen Quartermain some credit for innovation with his observation during the Collingwood-Hawthorn game: “He’s been a little bit off-song tonight, Rioli.” Probably none of us have ever heard this term used in conversation in our lives, but given that there is an idiomatic term “on-song”, it may be that we were just waiting for a lateral-thinking guy like “Quarters” to coin its opposite.
Now all someone has to do is invent a more extreme version of “off-song” for occasions when Port Adelaide players sing their club tune after a victory.
Somewhat puzzling was Matthew Lloyd’s assertion, a few minutes before quarter time:
“The statistics are even and it’s been 22 tackles to 9.”
Of course many forms of accounting were affected in the wake of the worldwide crispy credit crunch, but somehow “even” used to seem more, well, even.
Meanwhile, back at the ‘Gabba, Alistair Lynch plaintively enquired: “What does that do to the psych (sic) of the Brisbane Lions?”
Just for future reference, if he meant the team psychologist he probably should have said so, if he meant “psyche” you pronounce the ‘e’, and if he meant Brendan Fevola, well, that just seems a little rude.
Of a Fox Sports colleague’s comment, late in the Melbourne-Brisbane game, that Melbourne appeared to be on the road to recovery, Alistair Lynch elaborated: “It’s a six-lane freeway going one way.”
You couldn’t fault him on speaking his mind clearly, but you had to wonder how all those cars were ultimately going to return in the other direction. As a traffic model, it appeared to be fraught with disaster.
“You don’t have any lead-up target,” bemoaned Jason Dunstall of the Swans-Eagles match. This probably means there wasn’t anyone leading at the time. Quite what scientific advantage we gain by use of the expression “lead-up target” remains more than a little hazy.
But thanks to modern footyspeak, we have “lead-up” this, and “spot-up” the other. It’s just the kind of stuff they do, or, in the modern vernacular, “stuff-up”.
However, a new twist on age-old expressions can sometimes be refreshingly welcome. As Terry Wallace welcomed listeners at halftime on SEN’s Saturday afternoon coverage: “For those who haven’t just joined us…” It was probably a mere slip of the tongue, but it opens up new worlds of possibility. In one verbal masterstroke, it covers everybody who was already listening, all those glued to other stations, and even people determinedly avoiding football entirely, carrying out household repairs in the backyard.
Or, as Tim Lane vividly described in the first quarter of Port-St Kilda on Ten:
“Schneider suckled Salopek under the footy.”
One way or another, that was definitely a slip of the tongue.