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World Championship Blackout

August 12, 2013 Leave a comment

iaaf2013

I have long been puzzled by the oddity of millions of Americans becoming rabid fans of track and field, swimming, and a host of other sports on a quadrennial basis. Heck, we’ll watch anything if it’s held under the Olympic banner. Rhythmic gymnastics? Sure. Don’t want to miss that keen competition between the Russians and the Belarusians.

But odder still is our lack of resistance when these sports disappear in the intermediate years. I imagine it would be a surprise to many Olympic fans to learn that the participants in these sports don’t just spend those years practicing, waiting for the next Olympics to roll around. In fact, each year brings a rich family of major competitions. Some sports even have world championships, drawing the best from around the world to participate in competitions every bit as fierce and prestigious as the Olympics. Not as rewarding financially, but just as difficult to win.

Speaking of which, the International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF, is holding the 2013 World Championships this very week in Moscow. All the usual stars are there. Usain Bolt just won the 100m yesterday, though you might have missed it. Kirani James, who won the 400m world championship two years ago and the Olympic gold medal last year, will be aiming for another win tomorrow. If this were the Olympics, we’d be glued to the TV.

Time zone difficulties aside, I would gladly spend this week glued to the TV. I had a bit of a conflict over the weekend, what with the PGA Championship taking place at Oak Hill in Rochester. The extraordinary golf clinic Jason Dufner put on yesterday kept me entranced. Last night I shifted my focus to track and studied the broadcast schedule, ready to program the DVR for the overnight events so that I could watch them later each day.

Which of our hundreds of cable channels is NBC’s Universal Sports Network anyway? Having failed to find it in a search through the guide on the TV, I logged into Comcast on my laptop and searched. I still couldn’t spot it. So I went to the Universal website, which has a link at the top to “sign-in with cable/sat provider.” Cool. This would let me find the channel, and also permit me to stream the events on the computer.

But Comcast didn’t pop up. In fact, hardly any cable companies do. How can this be? Doesn’t Comcast own NBC? Wouldn’t they put all the NBC channels in their cable package?

It seems the situation is more complicated. An article from two Januarys ago in the LA Times with the title “Universal Sports channel didn’t disappear, it just seems that way” offers an explanation.

[Universal] was not technically a cable channel but instead was a digital broadcast channel. Locally, KNBC-TV provides some of its channel capacity to Universal Sports for distribution purposes.

Now, Universal Sports wants to be paid by distributors for carriage and is being offered as a stand-alone cable network. So far, satellite broadcaster DirecTV [and now Dish as well] is the only multichannel video program distributor to have cut a deal with the channel, but its officers say they are confident that they’ll be in 15 million to 20 million homes by the end of 2012. Previously, the channel was available in about 40 million homes.

Unlike many sports channels, Universal Sports is not asking distributors to carry the network on their most popular programming package, typically known as expanded basic or digital. Instead, it is seeking to be part of specialty packages that consumers pay extra to receive if they want the channel.

Great. So, no world championships for me. NBC has limited weekend coverage. Universal has exclusive coverage of all events otherwise.

Worse, no world championships for just about anyone in the US. What a way to kill interest in the sport, making the biennial showcase invisible! Maybe track really doesn’t exist in non-Olympic years.

Categories: Television, Track

French Open Blackout

June 7, 2013 Leave a comment
Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

A historic tennis match is taking place right now at the French Open and I’m not watching it. It’s the men’s semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the two best players in the world. Nadal, the greatest clay court player ever, is going for his eighth French Open title, Djokovic his first in what would complete a career grand slam.

As I write, Nadal just broke Djokovic in a deuce game in the fifth set to even the set and match. Nadal served for the match twice in the fourth set, only to be broken twice and lose in a tiebreaker. It looked like Djokovic would go on to win the fifth set, but now the set is even at 4-4. All this I’m gleaning from watching the live scores.

Why am I not watching the match on TV? Because NBC are complete a–holes. They could leave ESPN to broadcast it, as ESPN broadcast the women’s semifinals yesterday. (Not that I’m capable of watching when Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka contest one of their shriek-a-thons, but that’s another matter.) Instead, as a warmup for weekend finals coverage, NBC grabs hold of the men’s semifinals and then delay it so as not to interfere with Today.

Look, if Today is so important to your financial model, fine, show it. Just let us watch the tennis on ESPN. Obviously you don’t care about it. You don’t expect people to watch it five hours later, in the middle of a workday. Tennis history is being made, and you’re content to make us watch it on our DVRs tonight. Thanks a lot.

Meanwhile, the score now is 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-6, with Nadal’s numbers first. No tiebreaker in fifth sets at Roland-Garros. This could go on a while.

Categories: Television, Tennis

Antiques Roadshow at the Burke

June 2, 2013 Leave a comment
Dzoonokwa Mask, George Walkus. Wood, paint, and human hair.  From the Burke Museum.

Dzoonokwa Mask, George Walkus. Wood, paint, and human hair. From the Burke Museum.

The PBS hit series Antiques Roadshow came to Seattle recently, with an episode that aired just last week. During their visit, they stopped at my favorite museum, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. (It’s a state museum, and it’s on the University of Washington campus. Come visit!) In hour three of the episode, as explained at the show’s website, “host Mark L. Walberg discusses Northwest Coast Indian masks with appraiser Ted Trotta at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.”

No need to watch the full show. Just click here to see the two-and-a-half-minute Burke snippet. I’m sorry I can’t embed it, but just click and enjoy. The mask pictured above is one of the two featured. You can read a little more and get additional views of the mask here.

Categories: Museums, Television

Ken Venturi

May 20, 2013 1 comment
Ken Venturi making his final putt to win the 1964 US Open

Ken Venturi making his final putt to win the 1964 US Open

Ken Venturi died Friday. He was one of my favorite people in sports. I wasn’t yet following golf much when he had his greatest moment, winning the 1964 US Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda under oppressive weather conditions. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame a week and a half before his death, but was too ill to attend.

From the NYT obituary, by Richard Goldstein:

He first gained notice in 1956 as an amateur when he led the Masters by four shots entering the final round, only to shoot an 80, losing to Jack Burke Jr. by a stroke. He was the runner-up at the Masters again in 1960, a shot behind Arnold Palmer, who birdied the final two holes.

But Venturi’s signature moment came at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., on a Saturday in June 1964. Temperatures were approaching 100 degrees, and the humidity seemed unconquerable as the players struggled to play 36 holes, the last time the Open staged its final two rounds on a single day.

Venturi had not won since the 1960 Milwaukee Open, had considering quitting and had been required to participate in two qualifying events before being allowed into the Open. He almost collapsed from the heat on the 17th green of his morning round but carded a remarkable 66.

Going into the final 18 holes, Venturi was two shots behind the leader, Tommy Jacobs. After a 45-minute break, Venturi virtually staggered through the final round, trailed by Dr. John Everett, who was monitoring the players and who had warned him against continuing out of fear he would die from heat prostration.

Everett gave Venturi ice cubes, iced tea and salt pills as he played on, instinct triumphing over the pressure and the exhaustion. Venturi overtook Jacobs and sank a 10-foot putt on the final hole to close out a 70, besting Jacobs by four shots.

“I dropped my putter and I raised my arms up to the sky,” Venturi told The A.P. in 1997. “I said, ‘My God, I’ve won the Open.’ The applause was deafening. It was like thunder coming out there.”

Venturi was so weak that he could not reach into the hole to get his ball, so Raymond Floyd, his playing partner, did it for him.

“I felt this hand on me, and it was Raymond Floyd handing me the ball,” Venturi remembered. “I looked at him, and he had tears streaming down his face.”

As Floyd later told The A.P.: “He was running on fumes. If you had asked him his name, he could not have told you. It is one of the most heroic things I have ever seen.”

Venturi was helped off the green by the United States Golf Association official Joe Dye and was so woozy that he could not read his scorecard. Dye assured him that it was correct and that he could sign it.

A few years later, I bought a book consisting of selected articles from Sports Illustrated, including Alfred Wright’s coverage of the tournament. The article, by far my favorite in the book, was an eye-opener, giving me my first appreciation of the human drama inherent in competitive golf. Now I follow golf more closely than any other sport, and build my Father’s Day weekend around the US Open. SI has made all past articles available in the SI Vault, so you can read Wright’s article here.

Venturi would go on to greater fame as the decades-long analyst for CBS’s golf coverage, paired for years with Pat Summerall, who himself died just last month. Before his career in sports broadcasting, Summerall was another of my heroes, as the place-kicker for my favorite childhood football team, the New York Giants. (Goldstein again wrote the NYT obituary.) Whenever I watch CBS golf coverage, I miss them both.

Categories: Golf, Obituary, Television

TV Floor Plans

March 3, 2013 Leave a comment

seinfeldapt

A hat tip to our friend Laura for posting a link on Facebook yesterday to Aisha Harris’s piece at Slate, See the Floor Plans of Your Favorite Characters’ Home. Harris explains that “recreating the living spaces of famous characters through detailed floor plans is a popular pastime,” and provides examples and links, crediting interior designer Iñaki Aliste Lizarralde for some of the best designs.

I don’t want to take too much from Harris’s piece. You should click and see it at Slate. Or, if the example above intrigues you, go straight to Lizarralde’s website, where you can view plans, buy photos, or buy canvases. Enjoy studying floor plans for the Simpsons’ home, Lucy’s apartment, and more.

Categories: Architecture, Television

One with Everything

June 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I saw the video above first thing this morning and intended to write a post around it, but by now I’m a little late. The video has been picked up on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and I suppose on just about every other major aggregating site in the English-speaking world by now. So you’ve probably seen it already. But in case you haven’t, click on the play button above to watch host Karl Stefanovic of Australia’s Today show tell the Dalai Lama a joke. Stefanovic’s willingness to make a complete fool of himself is adorable.

I initially stumbled on the video in a Language Log post by linguist Geoffrey Pullum, who uses it as an opportunity to reflect on the nature of humor:

Stefanovic is surely not the only person who has discovered to his cost how easy it is to underestimate the quantity of cultural and linguistic background needed if you are to reliably get the jokes that people tell. For this one, (i) you must have encountered the Buddhist idea of merging or unifying with the universe, expressed using the idiom become one with (which in other contexts is not common); and (ii) you must have encountered pizza in the American style, with loads of different topping choices, ordered using a preposition phrase headed by with (as in with pepperoni and mushroom); and (iii) you must have been in a pizzeria that has as one of the choices on its menu the indecisive glutton’s non-choice consisting of a megacombo of all available toppings (by no means all pizza restaurants give you that option), so that everything is a possible topping choice.

When you put it that way, no wonder the Dalai Lama was so clueless. As Pullum concludes, “it’s a wonder most jokes don’t [die a quietly horrible public death], considering the complex web of previously encountered phrases and cultural references that jokes typically rely on.”

TV Sports Idiocy

April 7, 2011 Leave a comment

This idiocy is an old theme, but one we west coasters don’t pay the price for. I paid the price this past week, though, what with flying into New York on Saturday, the day of the NCAA men’s basketball final four round, and then being in New York Sunday for the women’s final four and Monday for the men’s championship game.

The idiocy? Games that start at 9:20 PM or 9:30 PM eastern time. For the semi-final rounds, that was the start time of the second games. And on Monday night, the championship game started around 9:30.

It’s not like I actually care all that much, but believe me, I don’t care enough to stay up that late. On the other hand, we did just get in from Seattle, so we weren’t exactly on eastern time. Which is to say, I did catch the end of the UConn-Kentucky men’s semi-final Saturday. As for Texas A&M’s upset of the UConn women on Sunday, I missed that one. And the UConn men beating Butler Monday? Well, I was reading, but still awake, so I turned it on to catch the end. However, if I lived in the eastern time zone and were going to work the next day, I would have skipped it.

By Tuesday, I was fully adjusted to east coast time, but that was our night to fly home, so we would be missing the the women’s championship. Plus, with our 8:00 PM flight delayed and our arrival in Seattle scheduled for near midnight PDT (or 3:00 AM EDT), I mostly wanted to sleep. As it turned out, I could have watched the entire game, since a selection of TV stations was available via satellite on the small screens in the airplane seat backs, but this didn’t even occur to me. After a late dinner, I went to sleep. When I awoke somewhere around 2:00 AM EDT, I turned my screen on for the first time and stumbled on the game highlights on ESPN.

I watched about as much of the basketball as I wanted to. It remains a mystery to me why the powers that be think it’s in anyone’s interests to have games end at 11:30 on weeknights. Or later. I’m just thankful that I’m usually here in the Pacific time zone.

Categories: Sports, Television, Travel

Law & Order: UK

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve never been a Law & Order fan. I’ve watched it. How can one avoid it? But it was never part of my regular TV viewing repertoire, never a show I would think over the course of a day that I was looking forward to watching that evening. And the same goes for its offspring.

Earlier this month, Gail discovered one of its younger children, Law & Order: UK. We don’t get BBC America as part of our cable package. We are, however, able to catch up on the episodes after the fact using On Demand, and we’re quite enjoying them. Looking over the website just now, I see that what we’ve managed to see are the last few episodes of season one and, just two nights ago, the first episode of season two.

I’m still trying to make sense of a line we heard in one of the episodes. It would be the episode called Sacrifice, #11 of season 1. Like the original Law & Order, the UK version features two police officers and their boss on the Order side, with a parallel pair of prosecutors (or whatever they’re called) and their boss on the Law side. In this episode, the chief prosecutor decides to take a temporary leave in order to serve as defense attorney for an old friend. As befits someone of his talent and stature (it’s not by chance that he got where he is today), he is extremely effective in court. And as he muses on his experience at the end of a day in court, he comments, “I didn’t remember how much I missed this.”

Now, I know they use the language a little differently over there. But could this really be what the writers intended? And did no one — actor, director, whoever — think to question it? Surely what has happened is that two more plausible sentences got blended to produce this. Wouldn’t one say “I didn’t remember how much I enjoyed this” or “I didn’t realize how much I missed this”? Or am I missing something?

Categories: Language, Television

In Praise of Lindsey Vonn

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

At Val d'Isère

[Enrico Schiavi, Associated Press]

I don’t often watch skiing on TV. I like it and all, but it’s not exactly the perfectly designed competition for TV viewing pleasure. Nor is it broadcast at any regular, predictable time. Or live. And let’s not even get started on the madness of not being able to see the glamour events of a Winter Olympics live. Every so often, though, I stumble on the tape-delayed broadcast of a World Cup race and I pause to watch.

Saturday was such a day. I got on the treadmill, turned on the TV, and found that it was tuned to the CBC, on which I had been watching a hockey game a couple of days before. In place of hockey, I had stumbled on coverage of the women’s downhill from Val d’Isère. And what perfect timing. We were in the middle of Swiss skier Nadja Kamer’s run. She would finish in 1′ 52.10″ to take the lead. She was immediately followed by young Swiss skiing sensation (I couldn’t resist the alliteration) Laura Gut, who in the 2009 World Championships two seasons ago had taken silver in both downhill and super-combined. This at the age of 17, and at Val d’Isère. Gut skied well, but couldn’t overtake Kamer, taking over second place just .12 seconds behind.

And then we waited for Lindsey Vonn, as assorted other women took their shots but couldn’t displace the Swiss duo. This, of course, is part of the problem of watching skiing on TV. Since it’s tape-delayed, you see a few runs, then break for ads, then a few more, then more ads, losing any feel for the rhythm of the competition. Rhythm or not, I was hooked. I wasn’t going to stop watching until I got to see Lindsey.

She was worth it. She had a breathtaking run, seemingly flawless (what do I know?), finishing in 1′ 51.42″ to take the lead by .68 seconds. And that’s how it ended, with Vonn, Kamer, and Gut taking the top three spots and arch-rival Maria Riesch over 2 seconds behind Vonn in 24th.

A day later, Vonn would win the super-combined to take over the World Cup overall standings and be named the AP female athlete of the year. Regarding the weekend, she explained:

First of all, I’m really honored to win the Associated Press female athlete of the year award. I feel so lucky to be the first skier to win it, male or female. It’s just been a great year. To win the Olympic gold medal and now this, it just reaffirms dreams can come true if you keep working hard.

I won both of my races over the weekend, and Ted Ligety won a giant slalom on Sunday in Alta Badia, Italy. It’s so cool that we both won on the same day. He took the overall lead, as I did. It was a great day for American skiing. I watched Ted’s second run, and he’s skiing so well right now, it’s amazing to watch him.

I was really happy with Saturday’s downhill. I made a really big mistake at the top of the course, but was able to make up the time at the bottom.

In the super-combined on Sunday, conditions were really bad for later numbers (in the start order), but I tried to make the best of it. The super-G wasn’t a perfect run, but it was solid and I won it, giving me a good chance in the slalom.

In the slalom I skied a little bit conservatively on the top, because it was getting somewhat rutty in soft snow conditions. But on the bottom I let it go and was able to make up some time.

I chose a good day to watch skiing.

Categories: Skiing, Television

Big Night

April 5, 2010 Leave a comment

So much to watch on TV tonight. What to do? We are 14 hours into the final season of 24, and tonight is the night FOX has chosen to broadcast two episodes back-to-back. It’s also the night of the NCAA men’s basketball championship game between Duke and Butler, now underway, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. For several years now (except when 24 wasn’t on a couple of years ago because of the writer’s strike), the Monday night broadcasts of the NCAA championship game and 24 have created an annual conflict, but the double 24 episode only exacerbates the problem. On top of that, it’s opening day of the baseball season, and the Mariners, rather than playing a daytime opener like most teams, are playing tonight against the A’s. The game would have just started 5 minutes ago.

Earlier today, Joel and I watched bits of two openers, on ESPN and ESPN2 — the Reds hosted the Cards and the White Sox hosted the Indians. We got to talking about whether it would be worth paying $200 ($180 this week, with a special opening week discount) to get the season’s baseball package on cable. Joel has paid the much smaller fee the last two years to be able to follow the games on the web, and last year I paid $20 or so to get the MLB app on the iPhone, which let me follow feeds of every game — not video, but pitch-by-pitch accounts in real time. The cable package lets you see TV broadcasts of every game except on Saturday afternoon, when there’s a blackout to avoid conflict with FOX’s national broadcast, and on Sunday evening, when there’s a similar blackout to avoid conflict with ESPN’s national broadcast. Joel pointed out to me that the Sunday blackout isn’t so bad, since games on Sunday nights are rare, but the Saturday blackout is an annoyance.

Then we remembered that there was a special first week promotion– the MLB cable package is free this week. We immediately switched from the ESPN games to all the other games being played at that time, to get a taste of what life could be every day if we buy the package. Marlins at Mets, Phillies at Cardinals. Rockies at Brewers, Tigers at Royals. Tigers-Royals meant an opening day matchup of Zach Greinke and Justin Verlander. Just think. I could be seeing baseball’s top pitchers every time they face off, and for less than a dollar a day. Maybe this isn’t a tough decision.

Meanwhile, what about tonight? How do I choose? And why am I writing this post instead? Better go.

Categories: Sports, Television