A few nights ago, I switched the channel to check on the score of the local basketball franchise's opening game of the season. I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to stick around for the entire contest. I just wanted to get a feel for how things were going. Happily, the broadcast was not in commercial break, so I was able to peek directly into the action. Then I was confounded by the digital clock counting down in the top of the key. I understood that the Golden State Warriors had made a move across the bay to ritzier digs, but I couldn't imagine how they had managed such an engineering feat. And just as quickly I determined that the clock had been superimposed by the crafty television folks who wanted to have a flashier way to include the shot clock in every view of the court. I forgot, momentarily, why I had tuned in. Then I went hunting for the scrap of information that sent me there in the first place. At the bottom of the screen, along with promotions for upcoming shows on Turner Network Television and a crawl that told me probable starters for the upcoming World Series game and the Major League Soccer standings, was the abbreviation of the visiting Los Angeles Clippers (LAC) and that of the home team (GSW) each followed by a number. The announcers were not seemingly predisposed to announce those numbers, but were instead caught up in a discussion of the business of basketball and the contract negotiations for two completely different teams. Once I had made certain of the time and score, I bailed and moved to another channel with cars exploding and guns a-blazing. This was a relief from the flurry of additional information that was required of me to navigate to watch a basketball game.
I blame September 11.
Before that, there would be screens full of sports without much more than the names of the competitors and their respective scores. I didn't need to know the wind conditions or be updated about the concussion protocols for players who were not part of the game I was watching. After the Wold Trade Centers came down, television began to deliver its twenty-four hour news cycle at the edges of every broadcast. There was no other way to impart all the information that was streaming in than to add it in the margins. Producers found more and more ways to insinuate all that terrible news into our casual viewing of the most innocuous programming. Once the smoke had cleared and the bodies had been buried, there was all that newly created digital landscape out there to fill. Now I am reminded of upcoming episodes of WWE's Smackdown and the current NASCAR leaders while I am trying to decide if I want to spend any more time watching what has become the background for all this data. I mused briefly on that long ago experiment of an announcerless NFL game on NBC. Don Ohlmeyer, who was in charge of the sports division back in 1980, decided to add more graphics to the production to impart enough information to make sense of the Jets/Dolphins contest without the customary play-by-play and color commentators.
That was the only time this happened. The announcers were back after that, and sideline reporters were added in addition to the jumble of details and statistics that could be shoehorned in around the actual game.
The Warriors lost the game, by the way. I asked Google. They gave me numbers I could use.