Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Where's the Band?

Why do television stations hate marching bands?

This is one of those grocery store questions I get: the kind of question friends and neighbors ask if we meet in the grocery store trying to grab of case of Dr. Pepper and a bottle of salsa. (Busy night ahead.) They stop me in the aisle, talk about a local marching band going to the Rose Parade, or Orange Bowl Parade as I did in 1980, and then ask "Why did you guys cut away to commercial just when the band was approaching?" These are the moments that make TV engineers consider a career change to pimping.

I will explain yet again that the cut away was the fault of the network covering the parade, and the local stations have no control over that, in spite of the fact that the Skypath hotline is melting with calls from local affiliate operators asking, "What the *@&^&!! are you doing?" Angry letters sent to the local station will end up being ignored. Your angry letter should be addressed to the network where it will be ignored by the appropriate overworked underpaid department head.

Television has a long history of hating marching bands, dating back to the days of John Phillip Sousa who, when he premiered his new composition Stars and Stripes Forever not one single television network showed up to cover the event. It's only gone downhill from there. Once upon a time TV networks showed the halftime events on the field at college football games until somebody realized the network could make more money paying ex-football players to sit in a state of the art studio set running down the scores of other games and offering their expert analysis of the first half.

"Well, Frank, I think when Michigan lost the coin toss that was a real momentum killer for the Wolverines."

And their expert prediction of the second half.

"Well, Frank, I may be going out on a limb, and it may be wishful thinking, but I think before the end of the game somebody's going to sock Brent Mussberger right in the chops."

You'd think parades would be better, but usually the sound of a marching band approaching is the director's cue to cut away to another Deal or No Deal promo with Howie Mandel. To be fair, the floats don't always get good coverage either, especially if it's something small children would like to see. Putting a parade on the network is a pain in the neck as it is; don't expect there to be any consideration for the children who might want to watch.

Anxious parents and relatives are quick to forget the three second rule: under the current rules of cutting edge television directing, a director cannot hold a single shot for more than three seconds. Thus, when Thomas the Train appears on the screen during a family gathering, everyone in the room joins the choir to get the kid's attention.


Tyler finally stares up from his toys with a look that fairly screams, "This better be good."

"Look!" Mom says pointing to the TV. "Thomas the Train."

It takes another two seconds for the boy to process this nonsequitus bit of information before he at last turns to look at the TV just in time to see an erectile dysfunction commercial.

If you stop and look at it from the television director's point of view, it's easy to see why TV avoids marching bands. First off, they're notoriously difficult to mike properly, especially at halftime at a football game. The shotgun and parabolics you see along the sidelines that work great for capturing the crunching of bones during the game usually manage to find the one trumpet player in the band who couldn't find the right note with Google Maps. A non-stop chatterbox PA announcer doesn't help. The camera guys aren't sure what to focus on. The color guard would be perfect, especially in HD, if they would just frickin' stand still! So we get boring long shots of the entire band, and unless it's Script Ohio there's usually not much going on there.

But the dirty little secret is, and I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the band directors need to chose better music if they hope to get better TV coverage. Trust me. As soon as the band's announcer declares, "Ladies and gentleman, the Muskrat Marching Band invites you to Journey back to the eighties, with the greatest hits of Journey!" everyone in the truck begs to cut to Howie Mandel.

1 comment:

Candace said...

You write very well.