Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Noah And Dave

Before one of Princeton's ESPNU games, TigerBlog will get an elaborate document from the game's producer outlining all of the responsibilities of each person who works on the broadcast.

For the most part, it takes about 30 people to make one ESPNU telecast work, and there are few places that TB has ever been that are more fascinating than a TV production truck, where many of these different assignments converge.

There are video screens everywhere, with mixers and sound boards and communications equipment and any other high tech device that's out there.

It actually resembles mission control from any astronaut movie you've seen.

The people who are working at these tasks aren't full-time ESPN employees; they're free-lancers who are hired by whatever network is doing a particular event in this area. After awhile, their faces become familiar, even if it's difficult to know their names or what exactly it is they're doing.

Through the years, TB has found himself on a "hi, how are you basis" with most of them.

The word document with all of their assignments lists jobs with funky names, camera locations, where to park, what the crew will eat, all of it.

TB is okay with all of it, except for the part that lists the announcers as "the talent." After all, the announcers probably do the least amount of work on any telecast.

Of course, it is possible that the term "talent" originated as a way of mocking the announcers, in which case TB would be more okay with it. Still, the term itself - talent? Aren't the people in the truck more talented.

Some announcers are way better than others, obviously, and there are many announcers out there who destroy the broadcasts they're working.

TB has never really understood the announcer-as-superstar attitude that permeates national broadcasting these days. He's not talking about the local voices, many of whom are a big part of the draw of a local broadcast.

Many of the years that Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn, for instance, were the voices of the Phils, the team was awful. In a case like that, announcers like Kalas and Ashburn become as big as anything else involved in the broadcast, not because of their egos but because they've become so familiar, so friendly to the listener and viewer.

No, it's the national broadcasters who paint themselves as bigger than the games that TB can't handle.

TB doesn't understand why networks pay such big money to some of these people. Does anyone watch a game specifically to see a particular announcer? It makes no economic sense to pay 10 or 100 times as much for a broadcaster than is necessary and not get any additional value from that investment.

For every broadcaster that TB likes, there are 10 he can't stand. Whatever happened to having the play-by-play man simply describe the action and then letting the color commentator make a point or two and them move on? Why must everything be so over-analyzed? Why must schtick take the place of substance?

Verizon Fios 1 does about 30 Princeton events a year, including several men's lacrosse games. Rich Donovan, who is the usual color commentator, can be counted on to 1) never feel the need to yell into a microphone, 2) make salient points without over-analyzing and 3) make you want to hear what he's going to say about a particular play or situation because there's the thought that he's going to give you an honest, impartial, intelligent account.

Why can't everyone be like that? Is that really asking too much?

It's because the announcers are so overpaid and overhyped that they feel that they're the show. Gus Johnson? Kevin Harlan? Do they offer anything other than shrieking, often from when the game starts?

Three people in a booth? It worked once, on Monday Nigh Football with Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell, and that's it. Now when you have that situation, it becomes a contest to see who can talk the most and who can sound the most insightful.

TigerBlog often likes to contrast the announcers at Princeton with the ones he hears on TV, and he's pretty sure that in a really weird way, Princeton's stack up nicely for a fraction of the cost.

And TB isn't even talking about himself here, even though he's done football, basketball, lacrosse and soccer here and has been doing so for nearly 25 years.

During that time, he's had the opportunity to work with some pretty good voices, including Tom McCarthy, now Kalas' replacement in Philadelphia.

Ed Benkin has been doing Princeton football and other sports for 15 years or so, and he makes a broadcast very comfortable to listen to, which is a huge compliment.

John Sadak does Princeton men's basketball now, and he's as good as anyone out there. Derek Jones, who does women's basketball, is also very solid.

All three of them are veterans.

TigerBlog wants to specifically talk about two relative newcomers.

The first is Noah Savage, to whom TB bequeathed his spot as the Princeton men's basketball color commentator.

Savage just completed his second season - well, really a season and a half - but even with his limited experience, he has shown the ability to make really good points and make them quickly.

He's also navigated through what could have been a difficult path of commenting on coaches and players whom he played for and with and done so to the point where he could make critiques without sounding like he had a grudge against anyone or pay compliments without sounding like a cheerleader.

His voice is authoritative, and he speaks confidently. He can make funny statements without sounding like a clown.

Also, he's formed a strong partnership with Sadak, and the two play off each other really well, considering how new they are to each other and how new Savage is to radio. His future is very bright; he just needs the chance.

Savage is an old-timer compared to Dave Giancola, who is in his first year of doing color for Princeton lacrosse.

Giancola, who played at Roanoke and then Rutgers before graduating last year, was an intern in the marketing department here at Princeton last fall, and he approached TB about doing some lacrosse on the radio, despite the fact that he had zero experience.

TB, who knows how hard it is to do lacrosse games by himself, figured he'd let Giancola do the first game of the year with him and see how he did. His performance far exceeded any expectation that TB might have had.

TigerBlog expected to have to carry Giancola. He expected someone who would be hesitate to speak, someone who was going to struggle turning his knowledge into solid comments on the radio.

Instead, from the very first time he spoke, TB could tell he was was going to be good. Now, just a half-season into it, Giancola is a someone whose value to the broadcast is high, an announcer who really enhances the coverage.

TigerBlog has been impressed with him, just as he is with Savage.

They're both worth the listen.


Anonymous said...

Savage has come a long way since his first few broadcasts... he clearly knows the game and, quite frankly, should consider coaching based on his analysis.

Anonymous said...

Noah rocks!

Anonymous said...

Dave is the greatest Lacrosse commentator that I've heard since listening to Carl Petch working Yale games in the mid 80's! Keep up the good work Dave!