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September 20, 2006

The End Of Good Football Clips

I had no idea previously why ESPN's NFL Primetime was able to give us good clips while everyone else gave shitty clips. PT offered most of the key plays in a scoring drive, or a defensive stand on the one yard line, while everyone else showed weak-ass clips of a WR catching a six yard TD with no context whatsoever of the drive that preceded it.

Turns out, ESPN had a legal exemption that allowed them to do this. But no longer.

The biggest difficulty with editing highlight packages is that there are so many games and so little time. In 1987, ESPN bought itself a few extra minutes. In a historical footnote to the deal that brought the NFL to the channel, Bristol negotiated an exemption to the traditional two-minute limit on highlights. The network got permission to show three- to five-minute packages of NFL games in the 7 p.m. window immediately before the Sunday night game. And thus was the greatness of NFL Primetime concocted.

With all this breathing space, ESPN could show fans huge chunks of important drives, concentrate on key matchups, and splice in video from previous games. The other networks would show a couple of 1-yard touchdown runs and a few shots of the head coaches grimacing meaningfully. Primetime would show how they got to the 1-yard line—six straight runs behind the left tackle, or a balanced attack that kept the defense on its heels. I remember editing a Los Angeles Rams highlight—that gives some idea of how far back we're talking—that consisted of several shots of the Rams using motion to create wide-open passing lanes. In the pre-NFL Sunday Ticket, pre-ESPN2, pre-NFL Network era, this was innovative, appointment television, especially if (like me) you rooted for an out-of-market team.

Sunday Night Football has now departed for NBC, and as a consequence ESPN has lost its rights to those long 7 p.m. highlight packages.

The NFL is being stupid. It's those long clips that create interest in watching football. The short clip packages are useless. It's like watching baseball highlights-- wow, another home run that looks exactly like the eight million other home runs shown in clips. Without the context, the build-up, the score is meaningless.

The article says NFL Primtime is now on Monday night at some point (I was wondering where the hell it went). I'm not sure if they still show the long packages that made it the best football show on TV (and that includes the actual games). But, as the writer of the linked article notes, watching clips on Monday night seems kind of pointless. I guess maybe I can wait a day, but all the enthuiasm for watching the highlights dissipates after midnight on Sunday.

While You're Down There... This piece about people trying to often to be funny is 85% right. The author insists, as all good lefties do, that Bill Hicks is funny, and doesn't mention how detrimental Sex & the City was (not for the exaltation of brazen hussies, but for the very bad idea, adopted by many, that constant cute observations about life made in real life is a charming trait, rather than one likely to provoke someone into murder).

Still. The piece makes the point I have before:

What is the upside of being funny? Well, apart from getting noticed, it's safer to hide behind the mask of humor, especially in a culture skeptical of intellectualism. Andrew Stott, an English professor whose academic treatise Comedy explored the philosophy of humor, sees it like this: "Being funny is a means of avoiding scrutiny. It's a deeply concealing activity that invites attention while simultaneously failing to offer any detailed account of oneself. The reason humor is so popular today is that it provides the comfort of intimacy without the horror of actually being intimate."

Wit and glib jokes are fine in small doses, but really, they're mechanisms of hiding the real self and for disguising the fact you don't really have very much interesting to say. (That's 99% of the reason I go for so many gilb jokes. Trust me, if I had something substantive to say about, say, Iran, I would say that instead.)

They're especially pernicious in movies, because movies are supposed to be about revealing character. But a "witty" character never reveals his character, except to show that he is witty, which is a superficial character trait at best.

And too much of this goes on in real life, too.

I remember vowing at some point after college to stop being funny, because I considered it clownish and also cowardly. It didn't last very long, but I think my instincts were sound.

On Comedies: I should say that "wit" is useless in a comedy. Not jokes per se, but wit.

Funny stuff that comes out a character's flaws is funny. Whether it's Happy Gilmore's explosive anger or Clouseau's stupidity, the humor is coming from a character trait.

They're not trying to be funny in the movie's fictive universe.

But when a character in a movie or tv show tries to be funny -- tries to be witty or cute -- it just almost never works.

Look at Seinfeld. The early shows are all but unwatchable because most of the intended humor comes from Jerry cracking jokes and trying to be funny. The later shows shift the humor away from Jerry's act-incorporated-into-a-sitcom into George's inadequacy and rage, Elaine's cynicism and hussiness, Kramer's... weird exuberances and enthusiasms. Jerry gets a little funnier in the show when they dwell on his one or two characteristics (shallowness, pettiness), but he's still not funny when he tries to be funny.

Late in the show's run he makes a cute comment, but the laugh only comes when Elaine asks him, disgustedly, "Isn't that from your act?"

I was just watching twenty minutes (all I could take) of some godawful movie called Friends & Lovers or something where every character was always "on" and being "witty." It was horrible. None of it was funny, partly because it was clear these weren't the characters talking, it was the screenwriter talking through his characters, which were merely puppets for his not-terribly-impressive wit. Not only were the jokes entirely unfunny, but they prevented any real character development to boot.

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posted by Ace at 01:01 PM

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