Holy Ground: For Golf Fans, It's Augusta National and the Masters
April 6, 2012 7:45 AM
By Gerald Jordan
This is holy week. Notice the lower case spelling: that's because it's holy week for golf. No offense intended to billions of the Christian faithful around the globe (this really is Holy Week), but executives at ESPN and CBS are praying that millions flock to their TV sets over the next three days to witness golf's greatest show, The Masters...
Yup. That's the one that lowers Jim Nantz's hushed tones into the deepest reverberation in the sort of reverence usually reserved for somber matters of state. It is "a tradition unlike any other."
It's a time when golf fans, and those who pretend to be fans, peer deeply into HD flat screens and drool at the beauty of Augusta National.
Live coverage of the first men's major tournament of the season got underway Thursday on ESPN and will continue from 3-7:30 p.m. ET Friday. Then CBS picks up coverage Saturday from 3:30-7 p.m. ET and from 2-7 p.m. ET Sunday.
For the truly techie out there in TVLand, viewers can duck errant shots or almost swallow putts by catching the action in three dimensions, on ESPN 3D from 3:30-7:30 ET Friday and 4-7 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday.
This is the golf tournament that, thanks in large measure to CBS promoting it extensively during the NCAA men's basketball tournament, will again bring out the "amateur viewers" in substantial numbers. Think Masters; think Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
And it's easy to understand. They've won green jackets six of the last 11 times.
Even though Woods hasn't won the Masters since 2005, his spectacular run from 1997, 2001 and 2002 still is so fresh in the minds of the church ladies and others who cheer for him, they all think this could be the year, again.
After interviewing Woods for 60 Minutes, Ed Bradley said that his elderly aunt seated herself in front of her television every Sunday that Tiger Woods was in contention, and he was certain that she knew nothing about golf.
Masters Week brings with it an audience of those who know very little about golf, but will draw near for the breathtaking views of Augusta National (even though, this year, the azaleas are past their peak because of the unusually warm winter, and spring storms have made some opening-day scenes look fairly cloudy).
The golferati will incline their ear to catch the crisp sound of clubs compressing golf balls and making them do things that weekend hackers only dream of. And (CBS execs hope) all will watch to see who slips on the green jacket Sunday evening.
Tiger Woods will play in his 18th Masters. As he said in a press conference this week, experience counts.
"I think it's understanding how to play this golf course... This is my 18th year, so I've spent just about half my life playing this tournament," Woods, 36, said in a recorded interview. He shot even par in his opening round Thursday.
Yes, the world's No. 1 ranked player will be in the Masters. Oh, it's not Tiger Woods; he lost that distinction a while ago. It's Luke Donald.
Go ahead, casual fans: "Luke who?"
Say what you will, the Briton has game -- although his plus-3 finish Thursday was a bit of a letdown.
Tiger is No. 7 in the world; Phil is No. 14. But this is the Masters. Remember that course and tour experience count heavily.
If Tiger's recent victory at Bay Hill is a harbinger, and Mickelson's crushing him at Pebble Beach earlier this year is equally clairvoyant, the two might very well go to the wire Sunday.
And that would mean a very happy Easter for CBS.
Lovin' That Sneaker Squeak
March 12, 2012 10:30 PM
By Gerald Jordan
Ah, yes, the sweet sound of sneaker squeaks echoing through a nearly empty arena. There's nothing quite like it this time of year, as the NCAA men's lowly "First Four" begin their extremely long-shot attempt at making the Final Four. By the time the big-name programs take the floor -- those rosters laden with one-and-done players, taping their ankles for a couple of semesters before joining the NBA -- the games will be in full swing. Filling arenas will be their supporting cast of thousands -- pep bands, team colors, face paint, and tears, of joy and dejection.
It's college basketball, and by midweek it'll be served nearly all day. Wow. That's like plowing through a restaurant-sized cheeseburger, polishing off an order of fries, and ordering coconut cream pie a couple of burps later. That's allowable if you do it once a year. And this is that occasion. Some fans will take time away from work. Some will steal time while at work. Many will play with one or more of a gazillion March Madness brackets. Even prison inmates in solitary confinement will scratch teams into concrete walls and hope for a good result (likely not, but the thought is too delicious to omit).
The format that made its debut last year will be back again this year: games on CBS, TBS, TNT and, get this, truTV, the cable channel formerly known as Court TV (March Madness TV schedule here). But the distribution is even greater when the digisphere is factored in. Hardly-working folks in office towers across the country will sneak peeks in front of desk computers that otherwise bear the responsibility of conducting America's commerce. The tournament reach now is extended fully to smartphones for those who load the appropriate applicatons. (Get March Madness Live on-demand details here.)
That makes for some serious decision-making. Should you go to a sports bar to catch the action on an oh-my-God sized television, or get the app that'll allow you to sneak game glimpses on your smartphone? A popular commercial suggests the latter, although considering the ad beauty who sat before the spot's hero, it's hard to imagine how a game would get his attention. But wait, are those the Arkansas Razorbacks on a fast break? I'll watch the game on any medium available!
Anyhow, regardless of who cuts down the nets in New Orleans April 2 (and Arkansas is not in the postseason), the battles to get there will be well worth watching. First up, Mississippi Valley State (Jerry Rice played football there) vs. Western Kentucky [photo at top], and Brigham Young vs. Iona, beginning Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET on truTV (after that channel's daily set-up half-hour).
Just remember: 68 teams play down to a national champion. Someone please pass the coconut cream pie.
Difficult to Be Bowled Over by Some of These College Football Showdowns
December 17, 2011 11:30 AM
By Gerald Jordan
Bernie Madoff guessed wrong. His Ponzi scheme would have yielded bucks just as big as the millions he bilked, and he would have been able to hide in plain sight, had he done just one simple thing: corral investors to sponsor college football bowl games.
No fewer than 34 bowls will be played to cap this 2011 college football season, with the Bowl Championship Series national title game set for a rematch of No. 1 Louisiana State University and No. 2 Alabama. The tradition, the rivalry, the pageantry, the -- oh phooey, where's Keith Jackson to properly hype this game? Ah, but to get to this prince of a football showdown, scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. ET Jan. 9 kickoff on ESPN, gridiron fans will have to kiss a lot of frogs.
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Really?
That's an afternoon kickoff Dec. 17 in Boise, Idaho, netting a 5:30 p.m. ET kickoff between Utah State (7-5) and Ohio University (9-4). There was a time when a combined nine losses meant that those two teams were in the weight room, dreaming of what might have been and waiting for spring football to begin.
Yup, those were the good old days of collegiate sport, when bowls bore names that honored the tradition of their hometown boosters: Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton.
That also was before the birth of the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, before nosebleed figures on contracts drew salivating sponsors eager to reach 18-to-25-year-old testosterone-driven, beer-drinking, truck-buying man-children.
What's now neatly and familiarly packaged as ESPN (remember when some doubted the all-sports channel would sail?) is an industry unto itself, with multiple channels and marketing/merchandising spinoffs that include a multi-story hangout on the Las Vegas Strip.
With money to spend, ESPN has bowls to buy, and obedient college football conferences are only too glad to oblige. Thus, the six-victory season now crowns a team "bowl eligible." And, having plunged to the depths of mediocrity, note this: There are exceptions. Yes. Because USC is banned from the post-season, UCLA, a 6-7 team whose faded glory couldn't be detected by using quantum analysis, is playing Illinois (6-6) in the Fight Hunger Bowl, a New Year's Eve 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff in San Francisco. How could such a worthy cause get saddled with two nags who should have been retired at the end of the season?
Don't have a bowl invitation? Not to worry. Wait at the nearest bus stop; one will be along presently. Beef O'Brady's, Poinsettia, Maaco, Little Caesar's, Pinstripe, Music City, Meineke CarCare, Chick-fil-A, TicketCity and BBVA Compass bowls -- they make you want to tune in just to hear the sponsors explain, in their obligatory on-camera interviews, just who they are and what they do. Just imagine, though, that Bernie Madoff could have slipped another half-dozen bowls into that lineup, signed sponsors and melted into obscurity before kickoff.
And if you think that's farfetched, consider this: East Carolina University (the team nickname is the Pirates, so hang onto that for a minute) finished the season 5-7 and couldn't swing a bowl invitation. Team boosters, the Pirate Club, have organized The Virtual Bowl and are selling tickets for $50 apiece. The money is considered a donation and the Pirate Club seems to have taken a page from the Green Bay Packers playbook. Remember the recent Packers stock sale? An asking price of $250 got you a share, but no vote, and no seats -- on the board or in the stadium. Anyhow, keep an eye on that nonexistent bowl. There will be more.
Some bowls speak for themselves. The New Orleans Bowl (9 p.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 17, on ESPN) already has me hungry for jambalaya and bread pudding, even though I wouldn't toss a coin to decide between Louisiana-Lafayette and San Diego State. They're both 8-4; maybe that's what's called evenly matched.
The Hawaii Bowl (8 p.m. ET Christmas Eve) is worth watching for the cutaways alone, but Southern Mississippi (11-2) was good enough to upend Houston's unbeaten dream season, and should just slap Nevada (7-5) silly. The GoDaddy.com Bowl, with the company's provocative ads (read that "offensive to women and thoughtful men") will draw an audience on Jan. 8 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), even if few care about Arkansas State University (10-2) and Northern Illinois (10-3).
Non-serious fans can leave the TV sets on throughout the casual bowl season (Dec. 17-Dec. 31), pausing occasionally out of curiosity about the bowl name, locale or team nickname (Red Wolves come to mind).
Serious fans will be engaged from kickoff tonight (Saturday) through the BCS title game in the New Year, managing their betting sheets.
Then the serious and the casuals can join forces Jan. 2 for the Rose Bowl (5 p.m. ET, ESPN), when Oregon and Wisconsin, both 11-2, line up. That'll be -- what is it, Keith? -- a "Whoa, Nelly!"
At least until LSU and Alabama have at it.
Go Western, Young Man: Making Slow but Sure Progress in AMC's 'Hell on Wheels'
December 3, 2011 9:15 PM
By Gerald Jordan
Westerns got serious when Hollywood started to show just how bedraggled towns were in the era that preceded pavement.
Comes now -- far from the sunny, spotless sets on Hollywood back lots -- Hell on Wheels, approaching the midway point of its first-season run, 10 p.m. ET Sundays on AMC. Another aspect of the sunny back lots of classic Westerns was the monochrome casts. Hell on Wheels buries that historic slight in the muck of a struggling railroad town that serves well as a metaphor for America's westward settlement.
So too comes this census: whites, blacks, American Indians, European immigrants and references to Asians. What an opportunity to lay out the sociopolitical map that has become modern-day America.
Think about it. What would a nation, hard on the heels of civil war, do to reinvent itself? Follow Horace Greeley's dictum, of course. The stentorian political reform advocate who founded the New York Tribune exhorted the youthful and adventurous to "Go West, young man."
In fact, that was borrowed from advice given in 1851 by Indiana newspaper writer John Soule. It became the clarion call for 19th-century U.S. migration. Expansion to the Appalachians had been the great move of the 18th century. For the 19th, the Rockies were in adventurers' crosshairs.
The richly diverse cast of Hell on Wheels includes a cliched roll call of stock characters: the corrupt railroad owner, the profoundly flawed Confederate veteran, the grieving but keenly savvy widow, the cardboard cutout immigrants, the incessantly angry ex-slaves, the corrupt middle manager, the abolitionist turned preacher, the Christian American Indian, and lordy, what or who else.
But don't get thrown by the seemingly stock characters. The setting and sometimes frightening setups grab attention. Moreover, the story lines buried in layers of the script reveal stirring background stories, much in the same way that peeling layers of an onion releases flavor.
Maybe patience is what's required for viewers to appreciate Hell on Wheels. In several instances, viewers are likely to pause with questions -- mostly why-prefaced. The dialogue eventually offers answers, almost as a backstory told without visuals.
The first answer was the motivation of the Confederate (Anson Mount as Cullen Bohannon, right) for his killing spree. In this case, there are gauzy dream sequences, and the remnant of a sampler stitched by his wife. Then we learn -- in part, at least, so far -- why the widow (Dominique McElligott as Lily Bell) is so furtive about her husband's maps and charts.
As the dialogue unfolds, we get other answers, too -- but again, in part: the American Indian's (Eddie Spears as Joseph Black Moon) motivation to convert to Christianity, and the Rev. Nathaniel Cole's (Tom Noonan) quest for redemption.
In some ways, Hell on Wheels is a walk -- one step forward, two steps back -- through what has gone wrong in America. Why, for instance, was it necessary to replicate racial discrimination in the West? For a generation that just saw that movie and its outcome in the South, why would westward expansion attempt practices that mimic slavery? And how could they succeed? And how could the immigrants, who just fled some of the worst mistreatment dished out by whites toward whites, turn against blacks?
The payoff in Hell on Wheels is a fascinating story with historic underpinnings. On tap are revelations about freed slave Elam Ferguson (played by Common, right) and his complex relationship with both blacks and whites. And how can viewers not be curious about The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), whose ascetic life towers in contrast to the chaos, filth and anarchy of Hell on Wheels?
Even though patience is not rooted in the DNA of television audiences, this series is sure to gain steam as the railroad moves west. Go easy on those thumbs before engaging TV remotes.
The history lesson isn't complete yet.
The Race to the Finish, and the Focus on Race, on FX's 'Rescue Me'
September 7, 2011 7:30 AM
By Gerald Jordan
The dance around the delicate subject of interracial marriage played out in full last week when firefighter Bart "Black Shawn" Johnston (Larenz Tate) married into the rowdy Irish Gavin family on FX's Rescue Me. Of course the nuptials really were not surprising, given Shawn's tenacity and his just plain weird attraction to the alcoholic Colleen Gavin (Natalie Distler)...
Nearly two-thirds of respondents in a 2010 Pew Center survey viewed interracial marriage mostly with indifference, so the Rescue Me wedding wasn't exactly a five-alarmer. Data last year reported that one in seven new marriages in the U.S. were interracial or across ethnicity.
Rescue Me, which concludes Wednesday night at 10 ET with an expanded series finale, always has played with fire in the matter of race. The wedding episode, though, mostly emptied the screenwriters' notepad of racial cliches, epithets and boorish behavior, with characters trading jokes, barbs and insults at the expense of guests of other ethnicities. It's as though Tommy Gavin's (Denis Leary) act of loosening his belt after the wedding dinner stood as a metaphor for the screenwriter holding his good-taste/sensitivity gut in for lo these many seasons.
The show accelerated from occasional references to racial friction to a cascade of slurs and insults. But is that a bad thing?
It can be.
Think: Archie Bunker, Norman Lear's creation of an archetypical Queens, N.Y., hardworking family man for whom race clearly mattered. The wicked satire played out on All in the Family by Carroll O'Connor was the source of argument, heated controversy and seldom fully appreciated for its criticism of how race is lived in America.
That's because persons who are the butt of jokes seldom appreciate the joker slapping them on the back and guffawing. We have not yet arrived at the point where laughing "with" someone translates as clearly as laughing "at" someone.
Rescue Me pulled out all the stops, to borrow a metaphor taken from the artistry required to play a massive pipe organ. It was, in fact, a fugue.
How bigoted can we Americans be?
But what if it's not raw bigotry? What if it is, as fallen priest Mickey (Robert John Burke) in the Gavin family says, the spouting of a family of narrow-minded drunks? Is there a line that should not be crossed?
In the current raw political climate of states blue and red, satire is an impossible sell. For a fuller picture, though, go back to the firehouse. That's where the bond among the crew is sealed.
They have to rely on one another when a squad charges into a burning building. That could be why, in some small measure, it's historically been difficult for minorities and women to gain acceptance into this fraternity. They trust one another, but hold outsiders at bay.
That's one possible reason -- but no excuse. And until they prove otherwise, minorities and women are viewed on Rescue Me as outsiders. Shawn probably gained some fraction of respect from the combative Tommy Gavin when he stood his ground on marrying Colleen.
Not that a happy ending loomed; in fact, the previews suggested quite the opposite. But maybe Tommy, someday, will cut the kid some slack.
The Gavins will, after all, hold Shawn and Colleen's kids some day and call them family.
And though the final episode did remind viewers just how coarse these guys could be, Rescue Me rightly summoned some somber moments, yet managed to bring the curtain down with some gut-busting comedic scenes.
Spoiler Alert for those who recorded the show to watch later: The crew's trip to spread the ashes of one fallen comrade was worthy of comparison to the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and the Three Stooges.
And how can anyone cry at a memorial where bagpipers skirl "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"?
What better way to release a spirit than on the wings of an Iron Butterfly?
Way to go, guys.
And the No. 1 Player in Golf Is -- Uhh, Wait, Wait a Second, It's -- Umm?
June 15, 2011 2:22 PM
Who is this guy?
By Gerald Jordan
This isn't a feeble attempt to test your golf I.Q. It's more like a feeble attempt to slide NBC viewers a crib sheet before players tee off Thursday for this year's U.S. Open. Luke Donald is the No. 1 ranked professional golfer in the world. Lee Westwood is second. Martin Kaymer is third.
Mind you, the broadcasters' descriptive "World's No. 1" and Tiger Woods were coupled for so long that it seemed the gifted one would take that title to his grave. Not so, though, in golf world. Ask any weekend hacker; the golf gods can be fickle -- even when it comes to the fate of one of their own: Tiger Woods.
So when the top three players in the world tee off in the Open, drivers will land crushing blows to perfectly dimpled golf balls, but most of the world will not hear a sound. Worse, the Sunday finale might prove similarly quiet. In both cases, this existential moment is brought to you by the now sad collapse of Tiger Woods.
This week was supposed to bring redemption, at least on the links, for the man whose own bad behavior destroyed his marriage and turned big-bucks sponsors, along with a good chunk of an adoring public, against him. His near-miss in the Masters this year was a cruel tease. Tiger was on course, literally, to return to greatness. The wicked irony, though, is that instead of a legendary, courageous playoff victory while limping on a broken bone and a wounded knee (see 2008 U.S. Open), Tiger Woods will watch this U.S. Open from behind the ropes and on the disabled list.
Alas, poor NBC will be granny-free this weekend. Many have said that their grandmothers, who know nothing about golf, watch Sunday finishes when Tiger Woods is in contention. Those who think that an albatross is a bad thing won't watch this Tigerless U.S. Open. Tiger lures the casual audience to golf broadcasts.
Nearly as bad, though, for NBC, is the fact that the highest ranked American player is Steve Stricker, wholly a fine gent, but not exactly a household name outside golf homes. Striker is No. 4 in the world and also two-time Comeback Player of the Year.
Here's what NBC needs: the 2011 version of Francis Ouimet.
Quick golf /movie history lesson.
At age 20, the former caddie, who was the son of a poor immigrant family, won the 1913 U.S. Open. And the youngster didn't just catch lightning in a bottle during a down year for golf. Francis Ouimet defeated British legends Harry Vardon (yes, he of the Vardon grip!) and Ted Ray.
Nearly a century later, NBC would dearly love to have such a captivating character seize the national stage. For the fashion conscious, Ricky Fowler comes to mind. This young man with no reservations about wearing flamboyant colors has a colorful game to match, but his sticks have cooled off lately. Phil Mickelson (No. 5 in the world) is popular, but not fresh on the scene. Dustin Johnson launches a golf ball in the way that awakens most men from sweat-soaked dreams. If only. Fred Couples is perpetually popular, but at that age when the nearly 4.5-mile walk in Washington, D.C., heat takes a toll by Day 3 of the four-day tournament.
The breathtaking course alone -- beautiful Congressional -- is enough to entice hard-core golf audiences, even with a field of players whose last names are followed by the question "Who?"
For casual viewers, though, your best bet is to rent The Greatest Game Ever Played, and enjoy the saga of the 1913 U.S. Open.
(BTW, that guy at the top is world No. 1 golfer Luke Donald.)
[TV schedule for the 2011 U.S. Open, all times ET -- Thursday 10 a.m. on ESPN, 3 p.m. on NBC; Friday 10 a.m. on ESPN, 3 p.m. on NBC; Saturday at 2 p.m. on NBC; Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on NBC.]
'First Four' Leads to The Final Four
March 14, 2011 5:42 PM
By Gerald Jordan
Americans just can't help themselves. Every March, our attention seems dominated by the NCAA men's basketball national championship. It's the CBS hype of March Madness, but also the biggest single-elimination sporting event on the planet. Even losing teams in soccer's World Cup get a stroll through the round robin before being shown the door.
The folks at CBS Sports have plenty of reasons to salivate over this year's tournament. First, there is no Goliath from whom the rest of the field should cower. Second, and maybe this should be first, nearly every team in the basketball-rich Big East will be in the NCAAs. That just about assures CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV that televisions from the most heavily populated portion of the United States -- New York to Florida -- will be tuned in. And as NCAA student athletes provide programming to sell cars, beer, tires, tractors and whatever, that audience makes a big dent in the $10.8 billion CBS paid to buy the rights to the tournament through 2024.
To any newbies -- all ye who only watch basketball annually around this time -- understand the Big East earned its 11 tournament spots. This conference was built for basketball. It's as though the Big East crawled out of the primordial soup of Pete Axthelm's paean to basketball, The City Game.
Consider this: The University of Connecticut's Huskies (cognoscenti call them UConn) won the Big East tournament over the weekend in Madison Square Garden, arguably basketball's cathedral, and UConn finished its conference season at 9-9. The Big East is notable for eating its young: Down in the lower rungs of the standings, the University of South Florida beat vaunted Villanova and lost in overtime at UConn before finishing the conference season at 3-15. This 16-team configuration of basketball dynamos has an easy claim on 11 spots.
Bracketology should be really interesting this month, too. With the tournament field expanded to 68 teams, the first round will roll out four games in the space where office pools around the country had heretofore grudgingly accepted a 65th team appearing in a play-in game. Now things will kick off Tuesday and Wednesday nights with what has been dubbed "The First Four." When that dust settles, tournament play heats up Thursday with 64 teams, which, as anyone with a No. 2 lead pencil and a ruler will proclaim, is a work of verisimilitude.
"The First Four" will be televised this Tuesday and Wednesday by Turner-owned truTV, the channel formerly known as CourtTV. That could very well send chills down the spines of barflies unaware of the format switch and suddenly worrying their mugs (not the ones they're holding) might pop up among America's most wanted.
This year's is sure to be an NCAA like no other. Just imagine all the TV access. Throw in another few million furtive glances via March Madness on Demand live streams on workplace computers. Add all the portable device apps newly loaded on iPads, smartphones and Dick Tracy wristwatches. And this question will likely arise:
Who's not watching?
Super Food, Super Nasty
February 3, 2011 7:25 PM
By Gerald Jordan
Without pondering this question, answer: What follows Thanksgiving measured by the amount of food Americans consume on one occasion?
July 4th picnics? Not even close.
It's the Super Bowl, at least that's what the folks who count how much we eat say. And the occasion, named nearly a half century ago by Norma Hunt, wife of Lamar Hunt (who owned the Dallas Texans cum Kansas City Chiefs and was a founder of the American Football League), has only gained stature, prestige, financial cachet and hype since then.
Obviously viewers will be tempted to eat themselves into a pre-game stupor, leaving instructions for family and friends to awaken them during the commercials. But Super Bowl XLV is shaping up to be a real game. Las Vegas has set a stratospheric over/under at somewhere just north of 40 points, and favors the Green Bay Packers by three. This one could be a classic.
OK. Here's "classic" explained for the nearly 50 million viewers for whom Sunday's 6 p.m. ET contest will be their first and last pro football game of the year:
The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense is nasty writ large. But suffice to say that the Green Bay Packers aren't shy about bone-cracking either. Picture two hard-hitting defenses -- the Steelers led by Troy Polamalu, who edged out the Packers' Clay Matthews as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year -- going against two of the best quarterbacks in the game: Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay and Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh.
This sucker has can't-miss written all over it.
The key then, for the 100 million Americans who'll tune in to the Fox Sports broadcast, is pace. When you intersperse football and food, you have to think of New Orleans, and Judy Walker, whose observations on exquisite cuisine appear in the city's Times-Picayune, shared some PR-driven stats with readers. "One billion chicken wings were consumed last year," Walker quoted from a source who tallied the intake for 2010's Super Bowl XLIV. That stat stunned me when a friend who sells processed meats passed it along. I would have lost money, betting that pizza was the big Super Bowl winner. (By the by, don't you just love the commercials that attempt to supplant pizza with fish?)
Because the Super Bowl is just an all-day party, with only the game -- buried somewhere in the eats and adult beverages -- as the central focus, there is no specific food tradition. Think Thanksgiving without turkey, Christmas without ham (with apologies to those whose dietary restrictions eschew pork), and July 4th without potato salad. It just doesn't work. Grab a little or a lot of whatever pleases you and head for the party.
And go ahead, quaff a ginger beer and vodka (that's a Saints Safety Smash) while the daylong pre-game show stops just short of driving you to a movie channel. Pace yourself. The day will be long. The bounty will be, well, bounteous. And the game will be a smash hit, literally.
It's Time to Get Bowled Over by College Football -- With a Caveat
December 18, 2010 4:40 AM
By Gerald Jordan
College football bowl season doesn't burst onto the TV scene as much as it simply ooozes into our collective consciousness. Lots of factors come into play...
The bowls don't have the convenient packaging of the ballyhooed March Madness, with office pools so prevalent that many are played intramural at police headquarters. The bowls do not, for example, have the many Cinderella stories boasted by the Road to the Final Four, which, by the by, is another bit of clever packaging proffered by CBS.
But what the college bowls lack in wrapping, promotions and the very certainty that the last team standing is an unquestionable national champion, they more than make up for in sheer volume.
Make sure your lounge chair is feng shui in relation to the giant-screen TV. Arrange for the coldest beer and the hottest wings. And keep an unobstructed path to the necessary room so as to hold interruptions to a minimum.
The New Mexico Bowl, which pits Brigham Young University against the University of Texas-El Paso, kicks off at noon ET Saturday on ESPN, and the bowl season is on. Crowd this into your mind: 35 bowl games will be played in 23 days.
Does that mean a talent bonanza for college football fans? Not necessarily. Because once the NCAA added a 12th game to the college football schedule, teams can win six games and attain what broadcasters like to refer to as bowl eligibility.
That said, 17 of the teams who'll take part in the post-season won seven games; 12 teams won the minimum six. Many among them finished in such lackluster fashion that their coaches are begging fans to buy bowl tickets.
The sheer number of bowls has created college football's version of "everybody gets a trophy." It's the same dilution of competition in youth leagues that has left a generation unable to cope with adversity. In the case of way too many bowls, you can pretty well count on television being the culprit.
Nearly every one of the teams of a lesser bowl will be seen on ESPN. That's good and bad.
Obviously, it's good for the teams to get some national exposure. It's bad that some of those teams have such mediocre records that bowl audiences will need to down excitement pills to get through the games. And, note to the game broadcasters: be sure the cameras don't scan the stands at many of the peripheral bowls. It's not unusual for the weather to be awful and the fan interest to be minimal enough to keep boosters in the warmth -- watching the games, well, on TV.
The handful of bowls played in sunny, resort destinations in stadiums filled by the year-round work of fervent civic organizations have given way to corporate-sponsored bowls whose names sometimes belie a bowl's longstanding presence.
The Orange Bowl, for example, has changed corporate so many times, I'm reluctant to mention the full name, for fear of a change by press time.
I plan to wear a pinstripe suit as I watch the Humanitarian Bowl. I think it's only fitting and proper for a bowl with such a lofty name. The Beef O'Brady's Bowl already has me hungry. And if either the Utah band or the Boise State band offers a tribute to Earl Schieb at halftime during the MAACO Bowl, they will surpass the Stanford band in raw chutzpah.
The Hawaii Bowl makes sense for Tulsa, but why is the University of Hawaii hogging the home turf? Why can't the Rainbow Warriors pack for Shreveport, La., and give the Air Force Academy or Georgia Tech a shot at Honolulu?
With payouts that range from $300,000 (BBVA Compass Bowl, featuring Pittsburgh vs. Kentucky in Birmingham, Ala.) to $18 million in the BCS Championship game Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz., 70 athletic directors will have logistical nightmares. The schools getting the small payoffs might actually spend more money to get teams, bands and boosters to the bowl than the game pays.
For teams bound for bowls Rose, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and BCS title -- all of which pay $18 million -- the largesse comes with the headache of dividing money, tickets, travel and access for legions of fans.
Other than the Woodstock guilty pleasure of staking claim to actually being in the bowl city and in the bowl stadium, it's probably a very good thing that ESPN will make them available to fans who will take the road less traveled.
What a wonderful holiday feast.
Tiger, Lurking in the Middle of the Night
November 4, 2010 12:26 AM
By Gerald Jordan
This is a grab straight from Mel Brooks' Spaceballs. Set your clocks for "ridiculous" time and get ready to watch Tiger Woods take one last swipe at dragging his season from the wreckage of 2010. His chance for redemption starts at midnight ET Thursday and extends to 4 a.m. Friday on The Golf Channel for round one of The World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions tournament...
Nearly a year precisely since his ill-fated driveway crash that snagged the yarn which eventually exposed his marital infidelities and led to his divorce, Tiger will tee up his Nike ball at precisely O-dark-hundred over the next four days to see if he can avert a shutout on the PGA Tour this season. He's had a few good rounds, which always are good for the easy to say, in golf-decibel tones, "Tiger's back," or "Tiger's lurking," but not enough successive good rounds to win at any time this season.
The TV guys like to call the PGA Championship, which is the final major of the season, "glory's last shot." The gathering this week in Shanghai is Tiger's last shot for the season.
"I come to the event to win the event," Woods said at a news conference that was posted on PGA Tour.com. "I haven't won an event in about a year. I've gone through periods like this before in the past."
It's a gimme putt to say that Tiger Woods has never in his life gone through a year like the one he's about to conclude. And there are so many firsts and nevers involved that keeping an eye on the Tiger should be an easy call for real golf fans.
This schedule -- midnight ET Thursday until 4 a.m. Friday, and repeating that schedule Friday before a more civilized 11 p.m. ET until 3 a.m. run overnight Saturday, and 7 a.m. ET until 4 p.m. Sunday -- is guaranteed to separate the serious from the casual. Those times are Eastern Daylight, which gives way to Standard Time (fall back and enjoy the hour) at 2 a.m. Sunday.
The biggest first is that this is the first time in 281 weeks that Tiger is not ranked No. 1 in the world. Despite a season that is lackluster by most pro golf standards and disastrous by Tiger Woods standards, he lost the top ranking to Lee Westwood (seen at right with Woods in photo) just this week.
And because Tiger's run at the top was just one week short of 12 years total in his career, most TV audiences don't know anything more than it's another golf tournament and Tiger Woods is the World's No. 1.
Tiger has never finished the season without a tour victory. That dates to his start on the PGA Tour in 1996.
Oh, and the other never... Tiger has never won The World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions tournament. He'll get a chance to cure all ills when the tournament starts Thursday at Sheshan International.
Yup. This is a PGA-recognized event and it is reserved for the true fans, those conditioned by the crack-of-dawn broadcast times from the British Open. It's also reserved for the insomniacs and the early holiday shoppers who tune in looking to buy the very latest in clubs guaranteed to take four strokes off your score. The denizens of overnight TV will know what I mean.
Fix yourself a Red Bull-laced, 5-hour Energy cocktail spiked with enough caffeine to make you play 18 holes after watching the overnight tournament.
Get ready to watch the Tiger Woods resurrection.
NBC's 'Undercovers' Signals Change in Network "Creative Reasoning"
September 28, 2010 2:00 PM
By Gerald Jordan
The conversation still is vivid in my mind.
CBS had just previewed Scarecrow and Mrs. King for television critics from across the country and the hour-long drama looked as though it would be popular.
My own campaign, though not personal, was nonetheless persistent. The time was 1983, and African American actors still were pushed to the margins when television networks looked to fill leading dramatic roles. The reasons, though, seemed flimsy...
Television executives always were "looking for the right fit," or awaiting the "development" of African Americans who could carry a dramatic lead. Never mind the overwhelming success of theater groups, notably the Negro Ensemble Company, which perennially produced excellent actors. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee weren't good enough, I guess.
After a couple of days of jousting with execs over the nettlesome matter of American TV that didn't look much like America, I chose Scarecrow and Mrs. King to stake my claim.
You'll need a bit of background.
Amanda King was a single, suburban homemaker played by Kate Jackson, who already had won TV audiences through her role as one of Charlie's Angels.
The Scarecrow was the spy code name for Bruce Boxleitner, who, after portraying the TV version of Frank Buck in Bring 'Em Back Alive, was so damned telegenic that he would have been cast in just about anything to jack up the Q ratings.
Mrs. King developed a crush on the Scarecrow, and the two worked together on espionage missions.
In the midst of that feel-good, "OMG are they ever hot!" moment, I asked about roles for minorities, and after a couple of modest stiff-arms from the CBS, I lobbed this question: Why couldn't the Scarecrow be black?
He was nearly apoplectic.
"The Scarecrow couldn't possibly be black," he said.
I knew just enough about television to know that if the top execs say it will happen, it happens.
"Well, for creative reasons," I was told. And the debate ended there.
OK, flash forward 27 years to Wednesday prime time on NBC, where Undercovers shows us that spies come in all colors.
Boris Kodjoe is Steven Bloom, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is his wife, Samantha. They are a stunningly beautiful couple (think Stephanie Powers and Robert Wagner in Hart to Hart) who have everything going for them. They shoot straight, fight hard, run fast, jump high and love each other deeply. This formula would make reasonably good television in any culture.
We've seen Kodjoe in Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Vacation and Soul Food, among other credits. Mbatha-Raw's role in Doctor Who gave her a step toward derring-do.
The couple they play were two of the best spies the Central Intelligence Agency ever produced. They fell in love, married and retired from the company. And just when they thought all was safe, both were sucked back into active service.
Never mind that the dramatic series, with its tongue-in-cheek flourishes, does not threaten Mad Men or Breaking Bad for Emmy cred. The lead characters are just too good looking to be ignored (remember Boxleitner?).
I'm not privy to the NBC strategy. Maybe the network is aiming directly at moving the multicultural ratings needle over a bit from TBS. Maybe Undercovers won't survive; it is light, in spite of the rough-and-tumble scenes the couple execute.
I plan to enjoy the run, sit back with my feet up, and chuckle at my feeble attempt to argue for diverse casts in prime-time dramas nearly 30 years ago.
Time passes. Times change.
Is Time-Travelling "Eureka" Still Ahead of Its Time? Or, At Least, Ahead of the Broadcast Networks?
September 9, 2010 8:15 AM
By Gerald Jordan
Only those whose lives are caught up in the thick web of conspiracies would surmise that Eureka is on the SyFy channel because its casting is too avant garde for network TV. Count me among those spiders.
Well, maybe I'm not committed to the true belief that a conspiracy exists, but the question does arise: Why can't network TV dramas be bolder in defying convention? And the answer is that this season, they just might do so.
Eureka, which presents its "midseason finale" Friday night at 9 ET on Syfy, is an excellent production for several reasons, not the least of which is story line. Eureka also draws high marks from me because the cast is diverse.
Blah, blah, OK, I hear the volume being turned down. But viewers have to give Eureka credit for knocking down conventional walls, and installing a cast that includes persons of color in significant roles.
Set aside the fact that Salli Richardson-Whitfield's eyes beam the kind of beauty that just says "cast me in anything and I'll be a hit." (In addition to her estimable resume of movie and TV roles.)
In Eureka, though, she's less ornamental and incidental, and much more significant to this marvelous tale of a secret utopian science/research community run by the government.
Add to that Joe Morton's role as a research scientist, and the show has legs. After all, how could The Brother From Another Planet -- Morton's role in the 1984 John Sayles movie about an alien who fit comfortably, if silently, in urban America -- not add value to a science-fiction production?
The telling moment for courage of conviction by the Eureka producers took place this season when the cast slipped through a worm-hole of a time warp that landed the key characters in a World War II-era Eureka. The community';s premise was the same, but the political time was vastly different.
The script moved through awkward moments in the 1940s (Richardson-Whitfield as a brilliant, 21st-century trained physician) without the African-American characters having to reach for mops and buckets to fit in.
Three million viewers can't be wrong. Whether they view Eureka through the same hopeful and cheering eyes that I do is quite another matter.
There's good news, though, whether you're enjoying the series, the subtext, or both:
SyFy has picked up the very well-made drama/comedy/science-fiction show for another season.
Feast, Not Famine: Do You Believe In (College Football) Miracles?
September 5, 2010 7:00 PM
By Gerald Jordan
Goodness! Pardon me. Did Thanksgiving come early? Even Canadian T-day?
The feast has been on since Thursday night, and college football fans across the land have been stuffing themselves with a cable TV cornucopia of football from colleges large and small, prominent and obscure (how else can Elon be described?).
This time of year is precious if you care anything about college football. And notice the repeated adjective -- college.
Those who play football on Sundays in the National Football League are professionals. They're the best of the best, which in simple terms means that they're so big, fast and strong -- even on the least accomplished NFL teams -- that the game moves at a pace that's often too hard to fathom.
The college game is different. True, there are scores of NFL players-in-waiting in academic citadels whose athletic departments are much better known than their arts & sciences colleges. But because several hundred schools field football teams (the top-ranked Division I has about 120 teams), the skills vary vastly. And that drives the fun.
College football audiences can see the disparity in talent from the teams that earn New Year's Day bowl bids and those whose story is wrapped in obscurity. And that's why college football, notably the season kickoff, is so entertaining. On this first weekend of the season, many viewers likely will see those Davids cast off their obscurity for just a few hours to take on the Bowl Championship Series-bound Goliaths.
For just a few hours, teams will meet on the cliched "level playing field." After all, if a coach tells a team that they can shock the world by beating (fill in the blank with your favorite big-time team), the field has to be level. How else could Jacksonville State beat Mississippi in double-overtime?
Some sports experts criticize college football schedules that put so-called "cream puffs" on the schedules of monstrously good teams. But is that any worse than following the dictum that "Life is short; eat dessert first"? To those who don't want to see Ohio State beat Marshall or Florida whip Miami of Ohio, or other similarly mismatched teams, well, you may eat cake. (It's difficult to muster the appropriate righteous indignation when ESPN scrolls a score across the bottom of the TV screen: Oregon 72, New Mexico 0).
But miracles happen. Ask newcomer Coach Turner Gill at Kansas. North Dakota State is a team you schedule to guarantee the visitors bigger gate receipts than they can muster in their small, home stadium, and to guarantee your team a 'W.' NDSU 6, Kansas 3. Ooops.
And it is precisely that "they don't have a chance" conventional thinking which vaulted Boise State to national prominence. In the last decade, the Mustangs have emerged from Rocky Mountain obscurity to flim-flamming the Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl on a Statue of Liberty play a couple of years back. Now Boise is ranked No. 3 in the nation and will face No. 10 Virginia Tech at 8 p.m. ET Monday on ESPN in the concluding game of this delicious Labor Day weekend feast.
Think about it. This is the only weekend of the season when fans will be able to watch Ohio State on a Thursday night, or see Arizona play at Toledo (the Wildcats wouldn't dare show up in northern Ohio in November!).
And this kickoff weekend has all the hopes and excitement that have built over weeks of two-a-day practices, supported by all the dreams of winning a championship. For a weekend, with every team going into the stadium undefeated, the playing field is level. What more could a college football fan want?
Growing Up with Black & White, and "Colored," TV
August 24, 2010 7:45 AM
By Gerald Jordan
The memories seem funny now. My brothers, my sister and I can't help but laugh every time we relive the days when Uncle Shag would call on us to verify his suspicions about what he saw on TV.
That was during the late 1950s and early 1960s in Malvern, Ark. It was an era of visions in black & white from the standpoint of both the picture on TV and the even sharper contrast of the segregated life we lived. It was a time when African Americans were rendered invisible on TV, except in some sparse news coverage -- much of it civil rights demonstrations on the network nightly news -- or some horrible cliched, buck-eyed, grinning images.
So the massive RCA console TV, which in my youth seemed big enough to house a family of four, took on a role more important to us than a mere entertainment medium.
In the rural South, it was our melting pot, particularly The Ed Sullivan Show. It was on that CBS show that we could see more African Americans in flattering roles on Sunday nights than at all other times combined on TV throughout the rest of the week.
And, most often, it was on those Sundays when Uncle Shag would lean forward in his inner-spring rocking chair and peer at the TV. Someone in a chorus would catch his eye. An entertainer whose seemingly sepia tone was apparent enough to raise doubt would become the focus of his curiosity. And Uncle Shag would call out "Come here!" One, or all of us, would scoot into the room, or press closer to the TV set if we already were there. "Is that one colored?"
Understand that it was the language of the time. And depending upon how much camera time that poor soul got, the debate was on.
We -- my brothers, my sister and I -- probably watched too much television. There were, however, lots of reasons; no, there were lots of excuses. It was an inexpensive distraction from roaming the streets, but then there weren't many streets to roam in my small hometown, and they could hardly be described as dangerous, save for the voluminous truck traffic along Little Rock Highway.
No, TV was the theater where African-American kids were entitled to the same comfortable seats down front as those occupied by whites. TV was our window on the world. Really. It was a main branch public library where everybody got the same treatment and the same access to books.
Still, though, it was a window with a skewed view.
We'd keep watching, hoping to see evidence of ourselves, not reruns of Amos 'n Andy, movies that featured Mantan Moreland, or anything else that offered whites more chances to mock African Americans. And there likely were many more times than I can now remember when we were just plain angry at television because it lied to us so often.
Rin Tin Tin never showed us any members of the U.S 10th Cavalry Regiment, the so-called Buffalo Soldiers. There were only rare appearances by African Americans -- never physicians -- on Dr. Kildare. No African American attorneys challenged Perry Mason.
We knew they existed because we had to go to Hot Springs or Little Rock to be treated by African American physicians or consult African American attorneys.
Certainly there were no police or private detectives who looked like us, because God forbid that a national TV audience sees black people wielding pistols rather than microphones, and calling out to white criminals rather than crooning ballads.
Heaven knows that African Americans never used any of the products advertised on TV, and that alone might be the root of enduring racial divisions played out on television. If the sponsors weren't so hell bent on "not offending customers" by perpetuating the lie that there was no African American middle class of consumers, who knows what barriers might have fallen long ago?
Much has changed since those days when we crowded around the RCA, relative to the change that has taken place in society. Or has it? I am eager again to turn my eyes toward the TV set. I'd say the flat screen, but I'm not that into TV. And I'm even more eager to watch television in the age of Obama. I hope that we've all progressed.
GUEST BLOG #85: Gerald B. Jordan on the 2010 Masters Golf Tournament
April 12, 2010 7:42 AM
[Bianculli here: I'm thrilled to welcome another new contributing writer to TV WORTH WATCHING. He's Gerald B. Jordan, a former TV critic, current journalism professor, and fervent weekend golfer --all of which is why he is the perfect guy to write about the thrilling Masters tournament just broadcast by CBS...]
CBS Presents a Perfect Masters Tournament
By Gerald B. Jordan
The planets were aligned properly, the perfect cast was assembled, the weather was astonishingly beautiful and Augusta National, which yesterday could have been taped for a demonstration of high definition TV, was equal to the task.
Script writers could not have penned a more perfect Masters yesterday. The season's first men's major was so high on the drama meter that it was nearly cliche-proof.
From the return of Tiger Woods to the rise of Phil Mickelson, the four days of Masters golf brought long-missing casual viewers back to their flat screens to watch a contrite Woods take a few strokes at immortality. Imagine the headlines if he had won this, his first tournament after a five-month self-imposed exile.
From the grim reality department comes this wisdom: When Woods joined the PGA tour, there were nine golfers who in a season were million-dollar winners. Now there are more than 90 and most of those viewers who peered into their television sets over the weekend wouldn't recognize 75 by name and 85 by face. Woods' impact on the tour is indisputable, even by those players who took a few shots at his domestic turmoil during his absence from the scene.
The finale yesterday needed no outside information for fans, whether casual or intensely serious. With Woods and K.J. Choi in the next to the last group and within shooting distance of the lead, CBS parlayed that potential into a compelling five hours. And CBS did so even as Woods and Choi faltered. As the final group took the tee and leader Lee Westwood had his troubles, the dullness of Phil Mickelson's string of pars erupted into a rally that unleashed roars across stately Augusta National.
Woods no doubt factored the freakish controls exhibited by Augusta National into his decision to return to the tour on this stage. The atmosphere there is so traditional that the course frequently is called a "cathedral of golf." The announcers speak in seemingly more hushed tones there than anywhere, including Royal St. Andrews, the home of golf.
The atmosphere was so controlled yesterday that even the commercials were low-key and high brow. There were no bawdy beer commercials with frat-house scenes played out. The ads were more of the institutional variety, something more suited to the Sunday morning news/talk programs.
So when the gallery roars erupted, CBS joined the control chorus by withholding, sometimes for more than a few moments, what set off the patrons. When the action was revealed, though, the living-room gallery had the best seats. Golfer and casual viewer alike could almost feel the unsteady pine straw, then marvel at how Mickelson launched a missile from a pine grove to within eagle-putt range on No. 13, but had to settle for a birdie (weekend hackers everywhere would donate body parts for that shot and result).
Woods hit a tree so hard that David Feherty likened it to a cricket shot. Then Woods recovered from that with a towering shot out of the trees to get within five feet of the pin on No. 11.
Choi was steady. Westwood was at times unsteady, but occasionally sensational. Anthony Kim, all youthful and vigorous, put on a Masters clinic away from the intense scrutiny of the final and next-to-final groups. His blazing putts pushed him to 12 under par and third place.
It was another occasion on which the PGA likely outpolled the NBA in Nielsen homes. How many can truly say they watched Portland at the Los Angeles Lakers, with so many eagles and birdies flying -- along with plenty of bogey interruptions -- on CBS?
In a week when Tiger Woods restated his intentions of avoiding excessive celebrations and profane outbursts, the Masters summoned the full range of emotions from golfing peaks and valleys. Woods kept his word, with a couple of exceptions. He even submitted to an interview after a round when his simple mistakes unraveled the good done by his eagle and birdies.
But it was Mickelson's emotional embrace, first of his caddy on the 18th green, then his wife Amy off the course. Amy Mickelson is undergoing treatment for breast cancer; so is Phil's mother. Amy Mickelson had rested in bed all week. Phil gave her quite a lift; the cameras were there to tell the story.
Gerald B. Jordan is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas. Earlier in his career, he was a respected, unusually well-dressed TV critic for the Kansas City Star.
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