A Bellyful of Telly Talk – Pt 1


I was actually looking for something else Dept.

I’d decided to make the next compilation of my old newspaper column material about sport and media sport coverage – in the ongoing “No Money for Old Rope” series exclusive to this site – from the earlier version of my (only) current column, From The Cheap Seats, because the original format of that was shorter, discrete sections which tended to lend themselves to one-liners. 

But while looking for those files, I stumbled over some of my way-hey-hey earlier writing for The Age, in the first column I did specifically reviewing sport coverage, Telly Talk

(And let me say with particular, boundless and undying pride that I had nothing to do with formulating that title. However in its defense, it had a kind of baseline clarity on its side, as it included the word “telly”.)

Because the Telly Talk columns were from a long time ago, I assumed the content would be unrewarding and a little embarrassing compared to the ones I did more recently on a similar theme – and recently excerpted here in a series of five compilations – entitled Lost In Transmission

As it happened, the first one I looked at, at random, had one gag in it that I thought still had a little clout to it, and the next column I clicked on also seemed to me to have one paragraph which popped a bit. (Pardon me while I wreathe myself in ovations.)

So I kept on clicking and copying and pasting, and here we are then.

This is one file’s worth of stuff of the Telly Talk column, taken from about nine months of 2004. I kept the gags and sequences that still popped for me and threw the rest out; and took a fairly free hand in rejigging, editing and a little rewriting to make the material scan after it was taken out of context. 

If nothing else, it should bring back memories of sporting events and moments you’d think you couldn’t have forgotten in just 12-13 years, but you might be surprised. (Or at least I was.)

I hope you get a kick out of it. Maybe even a brief snort of laughter or two. Who knows?



The average Channel Ten grand prix ad break runs longer than many manufactured pop stars’ careers.






“Beautiful frangipani hanging in the air, and the day of cricket dawning to a close,” Jeff Thompson mysteriously observed late in the second day’s play of Sri Lanka v Australia.


I don’t know whether Thommo is considering a late-blooming career diversion into haiku poetry, but he appears to have an unconventional notion regarding which end of the day dawn appears.






[re Australia v South Africa soccer friendly in London, aired on SBS]


When the cameras picked up sidelined South African Mark Fish – bearing the single largest recorded tie-knot on a soccer player since about 1973 – the ever-informed commentator Gary Bloom explained that Fish had sustained a most unusual injury:


“He cut his back falling through a glass table at his own birthday party.”


Bloom’s colleague Tony Dorigo replied:


“I’ve heard of all sorts – must have been a good party, that one.”


That’s expert commentary, right there.






Brian Taylor – the only mammal on Earth which requires no oxygen to live. Either that or he can inhale while exhaling, because he never shuts up. Arguably the only commentator in broadcast history who talks too much for radio, let alone television.






Anthony Mundine v Manny Siaca, Main Event channel, Wednesday night, and the action was fast and furious, except in the ring.


CLINTON GRYBAS:  Final seconds of the opening round, with scarcely a blow landed.


BARRY MICHAEL:  I don’t believe there was a blow landed.




CLINTON GRYBAS:  Well, how do you judge that?




Good old Barry.


Although as reliably phlegmatic an analyst as ever, Michael was trapped in the unenviable position of scoring the ballet in question for Main Event channel viewers, who were in the even more unenviable position of having paid to watch it.


One guy threw little and mostly missed. The other guy threw less and mostly ran away.

And thus it fell to Clinton Grybas – miles away from his home field in this boxing context – to try and manufacture some excitement.


“Almost like, waiting – just waiting for the coiled spring to explode,” observed Clinton mystifyingly at one point, not really specifying which contestant was suddenly likely to oblige, or under what peculiar physics lab conditions a coiled spring might explode, for that matter.






Late Night Poker is a half dozen odd individuals – take that any way you want and you won’t be wrong – sitting in a blue-lit bunker in Cardiff, Wales playing poker, amidst pluming clouds of cigarette smoke. On the evidence to hand, the last time any of the players were voluntarily outdoors, Australia was yet to adopt decimal currency.


Our two guides into this strange world of professional poker are commentators Jesse May, an invariably excited American, and Barny (that’s how they spelled it on the credits) Boatman, possibly the gloomiest Cockney in entertainment history.


Early in Thursday’s episode, the players were indulging in some light table banter.

Jesse May, sounding like he was fighting an overwhelming urge to back-slap everyone in sight for jocularity purposes, gibbered: “They’re having fun down there, Barny!”


To which Barny returned: “Yeah, and why not – they’re in beautiful Cardiff,” in sepulchral tones strongly suggesting that he’d last enjoyed a laugh personally in around 1972, and that his presence in Cardiff could only be explained owing to a tragic travel agent error.






“It’s been a strange match, of no real pattern,” offered John Barrett most of three sets into the David Nalbandian-Gustavo Kuerten quarter-final at the French Open. And no matter how many decades he’s been calling it, tennis is apparently still full of surprises to John, insofar as he can sit there watching three whole sets and not detect anything resembling a trend.


Still, this must be the deep-pan analysis tennis fans evidently crave, because whenever you turn on Fox Sports, no matter what the match in the tournament, John Barrett seems to be calling it. It’s kind of like Groundhog Day, minus the happy ending.


With context hurled violently to one side, he’ll give you match stats, career rankings, ATP numbers, he’ll give you the weather in Paris now, what it is normally, and the report on what it might be like later that afternoon. He’ll give you a lovely anecdote about some match he saw in Monaco a quarter-century ago, he’ll give you the dry heaves calling another grown man “Guga” beyond all human tolerance, and I’d swear during Coria-Henman, I heard him mention the wedding ring of one of the players’ wives.


Calling a tennis match seems less of a priority.






Fred Stolle still drones on, and on, and has amazingly upped the ante on his drone since last season while simultaneously slowing the pace, thus locking up his party piece as the only man in world sport who can talk in your sleep.






Some highlights from Euro 2004 coverage, from Portugal.


ROBBIE SLATER  (re Portugal v Russia):  “I tell you what, if there’s a loser in that match they’ll be going home, and if it’s Portugal, they haven’t got far to go.”


GARY BLOOM (re Germany v Netherlands):  “Schweinsteiger – whose name couldn’t be more German.”


GARY BLOOM (re German player, same game):  “Frings can only get better.”


The winner to date was also delivered by Gary Bloom who remarked, of a disputed decision, “That’s what the players want – they want consistency.”


And then, as Dutch coach Dick Advocaat raised his arm in protest at that decision, exposing a sweat-stain the size of Belgium, Bloom immediately added: “He wants a deodorant.”

Ah, The Beautiful Game.






In a startling bombshell, Mark Woodforde labelled Alicia Molik “the backbone of Australian tennis”, before sighing the plaintive qualifier, “You wonder about the belief.”


Suspension of disbelief was clearly already becoming an essential skill for viewers, especially those who were wondering exactly what Ms Backbone had to do with the match in progress, given that it was being contested by Venus Williams and the euphoniously named Carolina Sprem.


Woodforde’s partner in mayhem, Kerryn Pratt, sent windy platitudes merrily scudding over a bedrock of clichés to ultimately dance in the woodlands of the bleeding obvious. She also called the score relentlessly, in a manner suggesting an accountant in a state of borderline psychosis.


Someday, someone involved with tennis coverage is going to figure out that between the ever-present score box graphic in the corner of the screen and the central umpire calling it after every point anyway, the one thing the hapless viewer doesn’t need to be told all the time is what the score is.


Kerryn also had this knowing morsel to offer before a late Venus Williams service game:


“I think she might produce some pretty good serves here.”


Naturally, Venus immediately obliged by dropping the game in wind-assisted world record time. Calling the present was providing sufficient challenge without any commentator lunging hopefully at the future.






Regarding Wednesday night’s wearyingly over-blurbed documentary on Channel Nine, Shane Crawford Exposed, the big stop-the-presses angle everyone was hanging out for, tongues purportedly suspended loosely around the ankle area, was the question “Is he or isn’t he?” – i.e. gay, rather than secretly Polish, or a former bodyguard to the Shah of Iran.


Given that any amount of media coverage in the lead-up to Wednesday’s screening had indicated quite clearly that he wasn’t, this revelation was also bound to seem a little anti-climactic, except to severe amnesiacs.


One wonders whether the odd citizen or two out there might not feel that the question itself surgically bisected the twin uprights of impertinence and irrelevance.


Speaking personally, I could just about live with Crawford saying, “It’s my business – rack off.”


Also it’s kind of boring. It’d be much more interesting if he’d been the Shah’s bodyguard. After all, tons of people have been homosexual, many on more than one occasion.






A slow, portentous, eyelid-lowering montage of golf champions is succeeded by the inevitable shot of waves breaking on rocks. Both are accompanied by some funereal, vaguely Celtic movie music, likely to provoke the listener to either invade England wearing a kilt, or immediately assume the horizontal position while plunging deep into the Nap-Time Zone.


Out of all this Scotch broth looms a man in a blazer, our own Kenny Sutcliffe, in a studio which could be anywhere in the world, possibly excepting the British Open.


“Royal Troon, hosting this year’s Open Championship. Winn-Swepp.”

(I think he meant “windswept”.)

“But not too much today. It’s been rather pleasant conditions for all the players.”


So to recap so far, it’s winn-swepp, only not right now.


Kenny continued the benediction:


“They’re waiting for the breeze to come up, but it really hasn’t happened, so we’ve seen some good scoring, and you’ve got to have the good scoring early on in the round, because that’s when you get the best of the conditions, obviously.”


Good conditions = good scoring. Gotcha. “Obviously” – check.



Up went the leaderboard, putting Kenny firmly on home turf, wherever he was.


“The clubhouse leader Paul Casey, five under, along with Thomas Levet, of France.”


There was a significant pause here, and a click of the tongue. Either Kenny wanted us to reflect on his flawless pronunciation of Levet’s surname, or he was being asked to fill.


“And that scorecard is obviously a very, very good one, when you consider what’s gone on there today.”


Apparently he was being asked to fill.


You’d hope the scorecard accurately reflects the scores, in which case, I guess, it’s a “good one”.


Alternatively, given that “what’s gone on here today” was apparently little wind and great conditions for golfers, it was difficult to work up a lather of surprise concerning decent scores, given that Kenny had already run that equation past us earlier in the seminar.


“Paul Casey – obviously a very talented young fellow.”


Who knows, maybe he plays the ukulele at parties.


“Thomas Levet also doing very well – 66. Par is 71.”


Yes, that certainly untangles the whole “five under” confusion.


No wonder they send Kenny Sutcliffe away for the big events. Wherever he is exactly.






The Copa America – the international soccer tournament as shown on SBS and as very nearly sung by Barry Manilow – may now belong to Brazil, but the occasion belonged to commentator Gary Bloom.


“Welcome to the National Stadium in Lima, 8000 miles from Sydney, and at 154 metres above sea level. They say playing at altitude causes a dry throat, but this is a mouth-watering meeting.”


That was a lot of information in one greeting, and tended to come off like an advanced problem in applied mathematics. I’m not sure, but I think the correct answer is 654 furlongs, the equator, and a certain amount of light phlegm.


Anxious not to lose statistical momentum, Bloom described the Argentinean ’keeper’,

“At 31 years, the elder statesman, in many respects, of the Argentina team.”

Presumably at least one of those respects might be age.






That Sandy Roberts, he knows the score. After Phil “Voice of Cycling” Liggett had described Sara Carrigan’s excellent tactics in her win in the Olympic road event, Sandy was right there in the studio to helpfully underscore, “And how about those tactics?”


“Tremendous tactics,” Sandy further opined, and wouldn’t we all have loved Sandy to have had a go at describing what they were exactly.






The Athens Olympics McAvaney Moment to date followed van den Hoogenband’s victory in the 100m freestyle, as Bruce lost it entirely, as only he can.


“TARZAN!!” bellowed McAvaney, apparently preparatory to grabbing a nearby camera cable and swinging out into the pool. In attempting to explain that movie Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller had also won back-to-back golds in this event, it seems Bruce became overwhelmed by the call of the jungle.






For reasons perhaps lacking a little for crystal clarity, veteran Seven commentator Garry Wilkinson found himself at the Olympic weightlifting.


“He needs to bring the right foot forward,” observed Wilkinson authoritatively, during a replay of a failed lift. Details of Garry’s super-heavyweight lifting career being thin on the ground, it might have been better to defer to the expert commentator sitting a mere cheek away regarding technical matters.


Whenever super-heavyweight gold medallist Hossein Reza Zedeh approaches the bar, he is wont to make a religious gesture.

“Invoking the Prophet,” noted Wilkinson reverently on one occasion, wearing out his $100 elocution school accent.


Garry also freely translated from Reza Zedeh’s Arabic prior to a subsequent lift.

“ ‘Give me strength,’ he says,” alleged Garry.


Oddly enough those were the exact same words you could have heard in my lounge-room at the time.






Lauren Burns’ co-commentator at the Olympic taekwondo, Peter Colquhuon, insisted that one of the competitors “needed a kick in the head”.


It seemed he was indicating that she needed to inflict this on her opponent to win, rather than reflecting unfavourably on her personality. Arguably he might have phrased it a little better. Possibly we’re all so Olympics-dizzy at this point that some of us might benefit from Colquhuon’s seemingly bizarre prescription.


No less puzzling was the exchange following the 400m hurdles final, in which an interviewer maladroitly gushed, re Jana Pittman, “Is she sub-human?” To which Jana’s training partner obligingly responded, “Yes, I think she is.”


It’s the sort of thing which makes bamboozled viewers reflect that, like certain taekwondo competitors, they might need a good kick in the head.






During the Tim Henman-Dominic Hrbaty match at the US Open, Fox Sports’ Allan Stone and Wally Masur took a considerable and mystifying detour from the present to roundly lambast the “pretty rugged” British press on its treatment of Henman’s Wimbledon efforts over the years.


Presumably neither Allan nor Wally ever indulge in the impulse purchase of a newspaper when they’re at home, to compare how leading Australian sporting figures are treated when they are adjudged to have fallen short of the mark. That, or they’ve mastered a sense of irony that could deflect gunfire.


With Hrbaty two sets and a break down, Wally had a visionary moment.


“He’s really looking down the barrel, and that’s when players like this can be dangerous.”


Whether he specifically meant players with an apparent shortfall of vowels in their surnames, or by “dangerous” meant that Hrbaty was about to start randomly belabouring court-staff with a selection of ill-tempered forehand smashes was not immediately apparent from the context.


But in general terms, it can’t be good for your tennis career to wait until two sets and a break down to start getting “dangerous”.






In an unmistakably bizarre week, the final wig-flipper belongs to Ten’s AFL finals coverage.


Short of actual stalking, how do they manage, every single time your eyes flick up to the top-left corner of the screen to check out the scores, to have that stupid rotating stats cube device of theirs lummoxing around in place of what you’re actually looking for?


The darn fool thing’s up there for WEEKS. Hard-ball gets, unforced errors, inside 50s, outside legs, coaches’ nose-picks – who do they imagine in their wildest Alan Greenspan dreams is staring enraptured at this junk while the play is going on? Honestly. Look up for a score and you get the Dow Jones index, breakdancing slowly.






From a Ten Network media release, concerning the live telecast of Port Adelaide v St Kilda into Brisbane:


“Network Ten has openly challenged the public of Queensland to show how much they want non-Lions finals, as the ratings results of this match will be taken into consideration for future programming decisions.”


It’s a challenge of honour! A veritable gauntlet, if you don’t mind, umpire.


This may indeed be something new under the sun. We’ve all seen channels promote programs for their content, if applicable, or on the basis that they’re “can’t-miss” television, or other drivel to like effect.


However, it’s more or less unprecedented to promote a show to viewers on the high school flavoured premise that if they don’t watch, they’ll be punished afterwards.


I’d hate to think what happens if you ever miss TWO Network Ten-broadcast finals matches without having a doctor’s certificate or something. You probably have to stand in the corridor for life.






Ten Network executive David Barham had said they meant to have a jolly good bash at getting out of the Brownlow Medal telecast by 10.30pm. Although the ambition was salutary, you may rightly wonder at the inherent entertainment value of an event in which the enticement to watch is that it may end up quicker than it usually does.


The Brownlow consists of someone reading out names and numbers for the better part of our lives, somewhat like an infinite bingo call in Purgatory.


Undoubted, if not inevitable, highlight of the night – Ten being finally unable to resist an actual aerial view straight down the front of Chris Judd’s girlfriend’s dress, a garment apparently manufactured by Oscar de la Fresh Air Shot.






Wednesday night’s Danny Green-Omar Gonzalez card on Main Event channel generously offered unscheduled entertainment.


In the semi-main event, there was the greatest nationally televised referee’s instruction of all time – “Get off the f***in’ ropes!”


Plus the skilled corner-man, who during the break after the 7th round, yelled casually over his shoulder, “Eight-rounder, is it?” He immediately received the brusque yet informative response, “Ten!”  This rarely happened to Muhammad Ali.






Day 3 of the first test, India v Australia, Kasprowicz beans Pathan, and commentator Michael Slater observes sagely that it’s exactly on these occasions that one feels the benefit of wearing a helmet.

Hard to argue, really. Presumably, if one is to experience a cricket ball ricocheting off one’s scone as if shot out of a cannon, one would prefer, on reflection, to be wearing a helmet at the time.







It’s perhaps worth mentioning that Anthony Mundine’s post-fight comments came from the ringside broadcast table, where he’d obligingly joined the commentary team. “As is customary,” noted main announcer Matthew Campbell, apparently having seen more fight cards than the rest of us where the dripping-wet main attraction, still clad in ring kit, obligingly sits in with the commentators for a post-mortem natter.






You can keep your marathons, your triathlons, your fun runs, and your multi-stage road cycling extravaganzas – the ultimate endurance challenge in Australian sport is sitting through an Anthony Mundine undercard. Hours and hours they go for. And after that, they go for hours.


You could fire up the telly at the alleged start time of a Mundine card, watch a Lord of the Rings movie, back up for some of the extras on the DVD, squeeze in a few Pink Floyd albums, have a solid bash at a newspaper crossword, and turn back to the fights probably at around the same time “The Man’s” bemused opponent is leaning against the ropes wondering how much longer Mundine’s increasingly byzantine introduction ceremony can run before they actually get to exchange blows.






Channel Seven’s Melbourne Cup Day telecast was stuffed to the gills with unscheduled highlights.


There were the Benny Hill-inspired random fart noises emitted by remote microphones. There was Bruce McAvaney’s repeated raving about the amount of raw money being wagered, being delicately counterpointed by the problem-gambling public service announcements during the ad breaks.


There was the first wave of seriously demented Melbourne weather hitting the course, the heavens coming down, the dirt of the entire car-park blowing skywards, and, I believe, Richard Freedman immediately identifying a further unforeseen environmental flashpoint: “There will be fake tan running down the drains of Flemington!”


None of which even remotely compares to what, for many of us, has become the regular unscheduled highlight of Cup Day TV, the official swearing of the jockey during the post-race horseback interview. And we certainly weren’t disappointed this year.


There was interviewer Johnny Letts in the helmet with the little antennae, looking like he was auditioning tragically late for the Ray Walston role in My Favourite Martian.


He beamed with encouragement at Cup-winning jockey Glen Boss, as the latter first summarised “It’s just one of those frigging things,” shortly before taking the language a logical and inevitable step beyond “frigging”. He then punctuated the triumph by taking an immense, nationally televised gob off the side of the greatest staying mare in Australian racing history.


They go on and on about the Cup representing something intrinsically Australian, or capturing the spirit of the nation, or whatever the gibberish is, but there was certainly nothing more Australian on display than this. It came as a matter of considerable national pride to know that it was being beamed all around the world.























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