This is a cost-cutting era at network sports departments -- expense accounts are being slashed, nonessential personnel dropped, productions streamlined. And yet, the most logical cutting point -- the excess of announcers at each event -- largely has been ignored.
Which brings us to NBC Sports' mostly solid coverage of the Wimbledon finals. Of every televised sport in the land, perhaps none can be presented without announcers better than tennis.
It is an ideal sport for 19-inch reproduction -- with just a couple of cameras, the home viewer can see every ounce of action between the players. The score of each game can be flashed between every point, and the score of the match can be flashed after every game. Almost everything else is superfluous.
NBC sends its No. 1 sportscaster, Dick Enberg, to Wimbledon. It says here that Enberg could handle the women's final and the men's final by himself. Why clutter a telecast with JoAnne Russell and Bud Collins?
Collins has toned down his flamboyant act greatly in recent years, but the fact remains that he and Russell feel compelled to comment after almost every point. NBC likes to say "tennis purists" often cringe at Collins' irreverence. Well, many of us who are not tennis purists -- just weekend tennis hacks who treat overhead slams as a major project -- find him just pure irritating.
Look up the word "Oooooh!" in the dictionary and you'll find it says: "interj. 1. an exclamation of surprise, delight, etc. 2. Bud Collins' uncontrollable emotional response to superb shotmaking at a Grand Slam tennis event."
On Saturday, Enberg, Russell and Collins were crammed into a 69-minute women's singles final between Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. As a general rule in sports broadcasting, there never should be more announcers in the booth than there are players on the field. That means, simply, that three announcers are at least one too many for a tennis match. (That also means that up to 22 announcers can call one football game, so this really isn't a foolproof theory.)
What the networks keep telling us, with their three-in-the-booth approach and telestrator technology, is that we need to know every nuance of every play and that we want to be cajoled and babied while watching every sporting event.
What some of us keep telling them is that much of what they're saying is self-evident and we really don't need all the babble from beer commercial to beer commercial.
This is one area in which the British do it right. Many Americans poke fun at the stuffy BBC, saying it stands for Basically Boring Coverage of tennis. But the BBC's restrained approach to the game is one of respect for the viewer. We're not idiots -- at least we weren't the last time we looked -- and we don't need commentators cackling about "Fraulein Forehand" every time Graf hits a powerful shot.
It's a shame, because NBC's coverage is excellent otherwise. The camera shots of the action are steady and the graphics are timely and informative. But the network hardly ever experiences audio difficulties, which is typical of its ill fortune.
For good Wimbledon ratings, NBC generally needs Americans in the final and long, tense matches. NBC's luck has been rotten lately. The women's final did have Navratilova, but it was over by 10:17 a.m. EDT. And the men's final had Ivan Lendl and Pat Cash, who are superb players but hardly the ideal American side dish to breakfast in bed. That match, too, was over before most breakfasts even had been served.
On its match coverage, NBC failed most after the final points. First, instead of watching Navratilova celebrate her victory, we had too many cutaways to the crowd.
Then, instead of watching all of Cash's remarkable dash into the stands to join his father and friends, we got shots of the court and a sign in the crowd.
Collins, too, suffered in the postmatch moments.
He closed out his 16th straight Wimbledon assignment for NBC by talking with Lendl and Cash. He ended his interview with Lendl by asking Lendl how he could find a way to win Wimbledon.
Collins: "What must you do now?"
Lendl: "I guess just do as much work as I can, come back and keep trying until, you know, I either win it or die."
Collins: "Win it or die?"
Collins: "Which will it be?"
Lendl: "I hope win it."
Collins: "We hope so, too. Thank you, Ivan."
If a double fault could be committed after a match is over, that would've been it.