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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Broadcast boredom

It seems like you never see gymnastics on TV these days. And when you do, it's some sort of "Spectacular!" exhibition, with corny pop music, cornier costumes, and... *sigh*... figure skaters.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate figure skaters, but not when they're all up in my sport taking up space. We really don't have a lot in common with you, figure skaters.

I used to record all gymnastics broadcasts on handy dandy videotapes, and by the time I left for college, I had amassed a collection of 60 or so tapes, some with 6 hours of footage.

That's a lie. I did not stop recording gymnastics when I went away to college. I only stopped recording gymnastics when VCRs went out and DVDs came in, which was after college, and shows you how old I am.

Anyhoo, my point, and I do have one, is that there used to be LOTS of gymnastics on TV. But gradually, competitions became less of a sports broadcast and more of a human interest story: a large, large, LARGE percentage of the broadcast of any given competition would be devoted to watching gymnasts stand around before their routines, watching gymnasts stand around after their routines, and the cringe-inducing sappy gymnast bios. Also, you'd watch a 2-hour competition and they'd show 4 or 5 different gymnasts.

People that don't know much about gymnastics probably think there are only 4 or 5 elite level gymnasts in the world at any given time.

So because there's rarely any good gymnastics on TV, what I do now is go on YouTube to watch nifty montages like this one:

And in 4 or 5 minutes I see more gymnastics--really great gymnastics--than I would in a 2-hour "Spectacular!" broadcast. Because the other problem is, these exhibitions show watered down routines. If I want to see a basic flipflop on beam to the tune of Justin Bieber, I'll go down to the local gym and watch a level 7 practice.

I don't want to knock the "Spectaculars!" too much. After all, they do give well-deserved paychecks to hard-working gymnasts, and they're great fun for many 12-year-olds and for the gymnasts performing. I just don't think they're doing anything to help the sport grow and get the respect it deserves.

In the mid-nineties CBS had an interesting way of presenting the NCAA championships: they eliminated all down time to the extent that if a gymnast fell, they'd cut to a different routine. Although I DO like to see the end of a routine, even with a fall, I think they were on the right track. Nothing but action, no downtime, no interminable closeups of gymnasts chalking up and adjusting grips and rummaging through duffel bags.

So what I'd like to tell the people producing today's televised gymnastics competitions is this:

Tastes and technology have evolved. We are accustomed to video clips on demand, fast paced action, impressive and even shocking feats. Gymnastics is inherently suited to today's short attention spans. It doesn't need to be repackaged in melodrama or tween trendiness. People will always prefer to watch an exciting, fast-paced, high-stakes competition over a watered-down exhibition. The Pro Bowl has more big names, but the parties are hosted for the Super Bowl.

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