CBS's game coverage less than super
Much hoopla for ‘Survivor,’ advertising limit focus on field
By Tom Shales
THE WASHINGTON POST
Stumbling clumsily into middle age, football’s formerly fabulous Super Bowl, once the biggest scheduled sports event of the year, has been reduced to a mere lead-in for another television program. At least that’s the way CBS played it Sunday night when the network aired Super Bowl XXXV from Tampa, peppering it and salting it and in every other way seasoning it with innumerable promos for “Survivor: The Australian Outback,” sequel to last year’s blockbuster about abandoned contestants grappling and grasping for a million-dollar jackpot prize. The “Survivor II” premiere followed the Bowl.
CBS executives must have been popping Maaloxes like crazy as they waited for the game to end and tried to imagine how many viewers would abandon it and miss ‘Survivor.’
“IT’S GOING TO be an airtight football game,” predicted Jim Fassel, coach of the New York Giants, shortly before kickoff. The Baltimore Ravens ended up clobbering the Giants, 34-7. Except for a spectacular third quarter in which three touchdowns were scored within 36 seconds, the game remained for the most part stubbornly unsuper. CBS Entertainment executives must have been popping Maaloxes like crazy as they waited for the game to end and tried to imagine how many viewers would abandon it and miss the “Survivor” premiere. Reliable Source: Gossip
As always, of course, the Super Bowl was a carnival of commerce, a showplace of the air for the latest in commercials. It appeared the “Survivor” influence could be felt in many of the ads not that they were necessarily “Survivor” parodies, but because they reflected the show’s rather shameless celebration of human nastiness. The winning contestant on “Survivor” is not necessarily the one who plays the noblest game but rather the one who’s the most cunning, sinister and adept at exploiting and misleading the others.
ASPIRING LAUGH-GETTER ADS
And so there were such aspiring laugh-getter ads as one in which a fat man was so thrilled to have a pretty girl waiting in his living room that he danced and jumped around the kitchen holding two bottles of Bud Light. When he got to the living room and opened his date’s bottle, the poor woman was doused with brewski. And that, one felt, was the end of the fat man’s fleeting moment of bliss.
Whether viewers were supposed to read some sort of vulgar sexual symbolism into the heavy spritzing sustained by the young woman remains to be seen and to be debated somewhere other than a family newspaper.
Bob Dole, once known with a certain strange affection as one of Washington’s crabbiest politicians, was back in a new commercial that spoofed a previous Bob Dole commercial. The old ad was for Viagra, a prescription drug that comes to the aid of men with erectile dysfunction. In the new ad, Dole seems to be extolling the virtues of the same product when he says “it put real joy back into my life,” says “I feel like a kid again” and refers to the product as “my faithful little blue friend.”
It turns out the little blue friend is a can of “ice-cold Pepsi-Cola.” Funny? To a degree.
A pervasive hostility reigned in many of the commercials, the “Survivor” ethic (an oxymoronic phrase, perhaps) at work. In an ad for the Visa credit card, a woman cleaning her house becomes so tired of her husband’s prattle that she sucks him up into the vacuum cleaner. In yet another Pepsi ad, industrious inmates at a large prison are able to smuggle a Pepsi machine into the building, suggesting that a new slogan might be “Pepsi the drink of impotent senators and clever convicts.” One baffling ad had three friends throwing sticks and stones up into a tree to dislodge some unseen object stuck above them. Finally a Volkswagen GTI came crashing to the ground.
Madison Avenue is getting more and more obscure, coldblooded and downright mystifying in the commercials it coughs up.
What do they do, what do they sell, how much does it cost? The ads didn’t give you even the foggiest impression.
Of all products advertised on the Super Bowl, the ones that tried hardest were probably Internet companies, some of them utterly indecipherable when it came to identifying the product or service being sold.
A firm called E*Trade appeared to have bought more commercial time than any other such company. In one of E*Trade’s ads, a monkey was seen mourning and also chortling over all the dot-coms that had gone bust in recent months and all the investors left holding the bag when the bubble burst. Or perhaps holding the bubble when the bag burst. Another ad offered a highly convincing bank stickup, but that turned out to be only the dream of a bored security guard. He was unhappy to awake and find that no robbery had occurred.
Charles Schwab took a kind of anti-tech approach to ads for its e-trading, hiring the charming, mercifully low-key Sarah Ferguson to do one of its spots.
Cingular, the voice and data carrier, offered commercials that were far artier if not smarter than most other upscale Super Bowl ads, with the company declaring itself the wireless friend for life of anyone interested in “self-expression.” What do they do, what do they sell, how much does it cost? The ads didn’t give you even the foggiest impression.
FUSSING WITH EYEVISION
CBS also advertising time in the margins of the screen so that the results of a golf tournament could be displayed thus severely shrinking the size of the image devoted to the Super Bowl.
CBS coverage of the game itself was disappointing and at times even amateurish, as if the game had become incidental to the broadcast event and to the ways in which a network can exploit it and use it to promote other programs. Promos for “Survivor” weren’t the only ones in mad abundance. CBS also had many commercials touting its Monday night sitcoms, its action-drama series “CSI” and many another CBS show. The network also took bows for “Eyevision,” a new kind of computerized instant replay (less “instant” than previous replay devices) that gave the impression of completely encircling the players on the field.
Network producers and technicians were so busy fussing with Eyevision that they failed to air an instant replay of the first touchdown of the game. (It showed up three or four minutes later.) In addition, the CBS sales department got too busy and sold advertising time in the margins of the screen so that the results of a golf tournament could be displayed thus severely shrinking the size of the image devoted to the Super Bowl. Wasn’t the Super Bowl why we were there watching CBS? Maybe CBS executives think of the game as a nuisance, something to be pushed into a corner so that more money can be made with peripheral schlock.
CBS suffered one embarrassing high-tech snafu early in the telecast. Players were being introduced one at a time to the audience in the stands at home. They wore tiny microphones under their helmets and unfortunately one or two of them uttered four-letter words as they were being brought out, words clearly audible to viewers at home. And their families.
Then the director of the telecast, who would seem to qualify for the epithet “incredibly dumb,” managed to miss flyovers by first a Stealth bomber and later some Air Force Thunderbirds. We saw the planes, but never in a shot that established they were flying directly over the stadium. The planes could have been in South America or Africa for all we knew.
HUSTLED HALF-TIME SHOW
It was supposed to be a night of nights but more than ever seemed merely the night of hypes.
Thus does the “Super” Bowl move closer and closer to the status of just another TV mediocrity, albeit one with a lot more hype behind it and within it. The halftime show featured big names like ‘N Sync, Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige and Britney Spears, but the last two were hustled on and off so quickly that their images barely registered, and the novelty value of squeaky-clean ‘N Sync teaming with wicked and naughty Aerosmith proved feeble.
At the outset of the show, the great Ray Charles sang “America the Beautiful,” which remains moving but was cornily paired with a “celebration” of the 10th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm; this was where viewers were supposed to see the Stealth bomber (is that part of America’s beauty?) but didn’t, at least not in the right place at the right time. Then out came the ever-pubescent Backstreet Boys, whom an announcer referred to no doubt as stipulated in the Boys’ contract as “the world’s most successful singing group.”
Gee, do you suppose that includes the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?
Anyway, so it went on what is supposed to be a night of nights but more than ever seemed merely the night of hypes. As the hours wore on, viewers may have felt more than just a casual empathy with the stranded castaways of “Survivor” and indeed might have actually begun to envy them. They do have snakes and bugs and heat and crocodiles to contend with, but just think no TV.