I’ve recently watched — on television — four English Premier League games. The games themselves can remain anonymous — they’re not really relevant to what I’m about to discuss.
Not the games, then — but the telecasts. And one particular aspect of the telecasts: the commentators. There are always two voices on these telecasts. There’s the guy who does the play-by-play commentary, and the other guy, the analyst (the color commentator).
The “play-by-play” tag tells you what that guy does — it’s basically describing the action on the field as it happens. This includes identifying, very quickly, the players involved in the action, giving us their names. A clearly identified role — and one that I rank as the most important among the various roles a commentator can take on.
The analyst cannot be defined so easily. And it is the analysts I’m concerned with here. We can safely assume that they know their soccer — all of them are former, sometimes current, top-level players. (Though, for my taste, far too many of them played as defenders, some even in that most defensive and non-soccer of all positions, goalkeeper). They are, without doubt, experts.
Full disclosure necessary: I had my spell as a color guy some years back, somehow squeezing in before the players took over the position. I worked for three major networks, but none of them ever laid down any rules about what I should be saying. There was no curriculum.
I suppose, somewhere a TV network, or a TV station maybe, might have a written agenda setting out what a TV analyst is supposed to do. That shouldn’t be too difficult — he’s supposed to explain the action, telling listeners what this player did right, why that player made a mistake, what he ought to have done; and not just the players — there’s the coach too, and the analyst should have plenty to say about their plans, their actions and their antics.
All in all, there’s plenty of lively stuff going on. The analyst should never be at a loss for words. Quite an understatement, that. Logorrhea (excessive yakking) seems to be an occupational ailment among analysts.
Yes, I do find that analysts talk far too much (especially when they have nothing to say). But that is not what gets on my nerves so relentlessly. Nor are my nerves too jangled by the pretty obvious failing that a good deal of what the analysts expound is nonsense. And post-facto nonsense, at that. Most of what the analyst analyses has already happened — likely, just a few seconds ago.
That is not the analyst’s fault, nor is he to blame for a situation in which he is usually required to voice his analysis while the game goes on. His analysis, in other words, gets a nice action background. But this is a totally false scenario: the screen is showing live action while our analyst is cleverly explaining what happened 30 or 40 seconds ago.
The TV viewer can make his choice: watch the live action and try to block out the analyst’s voice; or listen to the analyst while giving only scant attention to the action on the screen.
That’s all the scene-setting that’s needed. Any soccer TV viewer will understand the situation, and they will have their own way of dealing with it. For my part, the live-action always comes first. Anyway, as a TV viewer I can always tape the game and go back later and watch as many replays as I like.
But that takes time, which I begrudge, and it also contains a strong hint that the analyst’s contribution is something of a nuisance. After all, it eats into live-action viewing time with opinionating that may well not be that important.
Quite. It is really quite extraordinary that the TV analyst exists at all. Does it really make any sense to have this guy, this TV analyst, this undoubted expert, yakking merrily way during an entire game? Enlightening us? Confusing us? Entertaining us? Making the game more enjoyable for us?
His role is not a natural one. Let’s re-set the scene. You are watching a game — but not in your living room. You are at a live game, you are a season-ticket holder. And here, right next to you, very close, is a fellow season-ticket holder, sitting smugly there as he does for every home game, that damned know-it-all who never shuts up as he gives you his version of everything that happens in the field. You hate the guy, can’t stand him, he ruins every game for you.
You have choices, of course. You can wear ear plugs. You can try to get your season-ticket seat changed. You can bring a large-sized gag to every game. Or maybe a hammer. Or you can stay home.
Watching a game in the stadium should be, usually is, an enjoyable social experience. The exchange of a few words, some yelled opinions, the usual swear-word criticisms — that’s all fine and enjoyable. But to be on the receiving-end of a 90-minute monologue, a lecture really, is insufferable.
Yes, this is what I find so irritating about the TV analyst. Non-stop cleverness — when I tuned in to watch a game. That is what you get when you listen to TV analysts. Do they really make watching the game more enjoyable?
That, no doubt, depends mostly on the listener. Speaking only for myself, the answer is a resounding No. I prefer to develop my own view of a game. These analysts are simply intruding into my own decision-making. I’ll admit, I do tend to view the analysts as clever dicks, and I often take cover behind that marvelous TV antidote, the mute button.
Even if I can be convinced that, maybe, my reaction to TV analytic intrusions is overdone, I will still maintain that there is a colossal objection to them: Namely that a live telecast has no time for them during the 90-minute game.
They could be accommodated by limiting their appearances to those occasions when replays are aired — which would mean re-thinking their role — turning them into Replay Reviewers. Add to that their role during pre- and post-game and halftime panel sessions — surely, that ought to be enough for any analyst to cope with?
So that is where my thinking on the role of the TV analysts has taken me. They accomplish nothing. They are not really needed.
In fact they add a rather stiff, didactic tone, something that is quite out of place when you’re settled down in your own living room.
What you need then is a commentator who seems to be sitting alongside you, a chummy presence enjoying the occasion with you — knowledgeable but not overbearing, reasonable but not bland, good-humored but never flippant — which not too subtly introduces the only commentator I can think of who regularly manages, quite effortlessly, to do all of that — the U.K.’s, and Sky Sports', Martin Tyler. A fine example of the perfect play-by-play commentator, so good that he simply does not need an analyst.