Human Interest

Published on: Jul 31 2012 by Abe Stein

I can’t help it, I’m hooked on Olympics coverage. I was watching last night in prime time as they replayed Missy Franklin’s backstroke win, and the crazy Men’s Team Gymanstics Finals in which the Japanese formally contested a scoring, knocking the Great Britain team out of the silver spot down to bronze as Prince Harry and William watched.

Of course, Olympics coverage is not just about the events, but also the compelling storylines of the athletes participating in the games. There are many segments in the NBC Universal broadcasts that talk to the families of athletes, or interview them in their hometown, or follow them around their high school, as was the case with the 17 year old swimmer Franklin.

This reminded me of a somewhat famous memo that TV producer Roone Arledge wrote in 1960 about sports coverage on TV, and specifically, about ABC”s coverage of college football. He emphasized the need to cover more than just the event with sports broadcasts. Here’s a juicy bit plucked from Roone’s memoir:

We will use a “creepie-peepie” camera to get the impact shots that we cannot get from a fixed camera–a coach’s face as a man drops a pass in the clear–a pretty cheerleader after her hero has scored a touchdown–a coed who brings her infant baby to the game in her arms–the referee as he calls a particularly difficult play; a student hawking programs in the stands–two romantic students sharing a blanket late in the game on a cold day–the beaming face of a substitute halfback as he comes off the field after running seventy yards for a touchdown, on his first play for the varsity–all the excitement, wonder, jubilation, and despair that make this America’s number one sports spectacle, and a human drama to match bullfights and heavyweight championships in intensity.


In addition to the natural suspense and excitement of the actual game, we have a supply of human drama that would make the producer of a dramatic show drool. All we have to do is find and insert it in our game coverage at the proper moment. And this we will do!

The moment we take to the air, we will start making the viewer feel he is at the game. Instead of the hackneyed slide to introduce the telecast, we will attempt to videotape a college cheering-card section or a great college band spelling out “NCAA FOOTBALL” on a football field; and after our opening commercial billboards, instead of dissolving to the usual pan shots of the field, we will have pre-shot film of the campus and the stadium so we can orient the viewer. He must know he is in Colombus, Ohio, where the town is football mad; or that he is part of a small but wildly enthusiastic crowd in Corvallis, Oregon. He must know where in the country he is, what town, what the surrounding country and campus look like, how many other people are watching this game with him, how the people dress at football games in a particular part of the country, and what the game means to the two schools involved. While the color man is setting the scene, we will see people parking cars, possibly a group picnicking on the back of a station wagon before entering the field, and possibly others getting their programs from the student usher at the game.

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