Monday, January 06, 2014

WHY DO SPORTS ANNOUNCERS TALK SO MUCH?


In honor of the 2014 US Figure Skating Championship currently underway in Boston, MA,I re-post my answer from July 2012 (during the summer Olympics) to the most pressing sports question of our time: Why do broadcast announcers talk so much?

Everyone wonders - now the truth can be told, via an excerpt from Murder on Ice, the first book in the Figure Skating Mystery series! See below!

(And come back every day this week for excerpts from the rest of the books in the Figure Skating Mystery series, On Thin Ice, Axel of Evil, Death Drop and Skate Crime.)

***

Though I'd already published two non-fiction books about the sport, Inside Figure Skating and Sarah Hughes: Skating to the Stars, friends who knew that I'd spent several years working for ABC Sports, ESPN, TNT, and NBC as a researcher/writer/producer kept asking when I was going to write my "real" skating book.  I.e. the one that revealed all the dirt.
My standard answer was, "When I'm sure I never, ever want to work in televised skating again."
Instead, I wrote five books of fiction, Murder on Ice, On Thin Ice, Axel of Evil, Death Drop, and Skate Crime.  Figure Skating Mysteries where all of the characters therein bear no relation to anyone living or dead.  That's my official story and I'm sticking with it.
On the other hand, ever since NBC began broadcasting the 2012 Summer Olympics last week, I've been reading so much criticism of the jingoism, not to mention the constant announcer chatter, that I thought it might be fun to share what I learned working behind the scenes in network sports regarding why you see what you see, when you see it.
Below is an excerpt from my first Figure Skating Mystery, Murder on Ice.  And if you happen to notice any resemblance to any athlete you've ever heard of... Well, you're just imagining things. ;)

"We're showing the medal contenders and then the third American girl?" Francis stared at his show rundown, a listing of every skater, commercial, and announcer stand-up scheduled to go on air, as if it were the first—rather than the umpteenth—one he'd ever seen.
"That's what it says, doesn't it? Erin Simpson, Jordan Ares, Lian Reilley, and the Russian girl, Xenia Trubin." Diana lingered over the last name, pronouncing it perfectly—Zeh-knee-ah True-bin—and cattishly grinning to drive home the point that, all season, Francis had inevitably stumbled and pronounced it Eks-ee-knee-ay.
"Why show the Reilley girl?" Francis ignored his wife and zeroed in on the point he'd actually wanted to make all along. "She's in seventh place, no chance for a medal. And she skates like she's having a convulsion."
"She's got a triple-triple," Bex pointed out, initially thinking he was asking a legitimate question before realizing that he was actually setting a trap with which to beat Diana over the head and her presence and/or answer was unnecessary. That resolved, Bex went back to twisting the headphone knobs and wearily listening to Gil scream in her ear, "Can everybody hear me? Speak up if you can't hear me!"
Francis challenged the world at large, and Diana in particular, by idly remarking, "A philosophical query, my dear: If a skater only lands her triple-triple in a forest with no little woodland creatures or judges around to see it, when she falls on it every single, single time in competition, does the splat make a noise?"
"Oh, shut up, Frannie." Diana took her seat in the booth and channeled her distaste with Francis's world-famous convoluted metaphors into glaring at her headset, trying to figure out how she could slide the clunky, offending black plastic band and dangling microphone onto her head without disturbing the meticulous French braid she'd spent all afternoon bullying out of the hotel's hairdresser. "Lian Reilley is the designated up-and-comer, she's the U.S. bronze medalist. Besides, we always show the Americans, no matter what place they're in after the short. People want to see Americans."
     "You know, of course," Francis said as Lian’s pre-taped performance played and he crossed both arms behind his head, terrifying Bex into thinking that he was settling in for a long, leisurely argument instead of getting ready for the show, "She doesn't even deserve seventh place. The child was severely overmarked. I fear the judges were so dizzied by those teeny-tiny revolutions of hers, they couldn't focus their Barney Google with the goo-goo-googly eyes enough to notice those choppy little strokes of hers or the fact that her footwork pattern was barely an earthworm, much less a serpentine."
     "Serpentine isn't a noun, Francis." Diana clucked her tongue at him in a gesture of either marital affection or extreme hate. Bex had spent a whole season with the couple. She had yet to figure it out.
     "Lian Reilly—and listen closely to this, Ms. Bex, you might want to write it down—Lian Reilley is precisely what's wrong with women's skating today. She does these tiny jumps that barely leave the ground and then lands in the same place they started from. She can't spin, and she most certainly can't coordinate a movement with a beat of music."
     "She's young.” Diana didn't look at him, but she obviously couldn't resist the rejoinder. "Give her some time. She'll improve her presentation."
     "She's the same age as Jordan Ares," Francis invoked the U.S. silver medalist, "And that girl has music oozing out of her fingertips. Watch Jordan on a practice. Watch her, watch her, I dare you. Any music that's playing, that's the beat she skates to. She doesn't even think about it, she just does it. That's an artist, a true figure skater. And that Russian vision—what's her name again, now?"
     "Xenia Trubin." This time it was Bex's turn to break down and answer Francis, even though she'd sworn and promised herself she wouldn't encourage him.
     "She's the same way. Even when she was little Ms. Reilley's age, goodness, could that girl skate. Couldn't jump to save her life, of course. Back in the old days, Bex, we used to take bets on whether she could actually fall more times than she had jumps planned in her program. But, her skating? Her skating was divine. She can cross the rink in five strokes and not break a sweat. She's a classic skater. A skater's skater. The fact that that wonder hasn't won a world championship in eleven years is a travesty. She's the only one out there who can actually skate!"
     "Do you think the fact that Xenia Trubin hasn't skated a clean program since Yeltsin was president might have something to do with that losing streak of hers?" Diana opened her research manual with an exasperated thunk and thumbed through the pages. "Now, I grant you, she's excellent at waving her arms around to portray Russia's grief over Stalin's five-year plan or some other such high-concept nonsense, but then she friggin’ falls down! Now, if she had half of Erin Simpson's consistency—"
     "She'd be as dull as our little home-fried jumping bean. Erin Simpson can jump. Jump, jump, jump, jump." Francis tucked his elbows into his sides and fluttered his fingers not unlike Tweety Bird. It was a most disturbing image, and Bex whole-heartedly wished he'd cut it out. Putting on a falsetto voice, Francis added,      "And she's so gosh-darn adorable I just want to squash her like a bug." He dropped his arms and, thankfully, the voice, to add, "Adorable is one thing, but the girl is not world champion material. If she wins here, we might as well all slit our wrists and go home. Call it the Jump-O-Matic World Championships, that's what it's become. It's an insult to everyone who ever actually took the time to learn to skate!"
     "The judges disagree with you, and no one seems to be slicing their wrists over it. Erin Simpson has beaten Xenia Trubin four times this year—fair and square, I might add— and I doubt that's going to change at this event."
     "Erin didn't outskate her. Not once."
     "No. But, she outjumped her."
     "You mean she out-stood-up her. Xenia may fall on her jumps, but at least they leave the ground and complete a full rotation. Erin is as bad as Reilley. Who cares if she lands on her foot, when the jump barely left the ground in the first place? It's not figure skating, it's hopscotch!"
     "Landing it is all that matters. You're out of touch, Francis. Face it, deal with it, and shut up about it."
     "You know, my dear, no one's hair actually grows out of their head that color," was Francis's idea of a witty retort to his spouse as he indicated her newly dyed, blonde coiffure and wrapped his headset around both ears, thus effectively ending the conversation.
     Or so he thought.
     Even as Gil was counting down, 'Ten, nine, eight, seven ..." to their live broadcast, Diana reached behind Bex's shoulder, pulled one earflap off of Francis's head, and hissed, "You just wish you still had something left to dye," before letting it snap back against his cheek.
     A split second later, over the television airwaves, viewers were being treated to the cultured, dulcet tones of Diana Howarth, America's sweetheart, sweetly welcoming them to tonight's broadcast of the ladies' long program at the World Figure Skating Championships, even as her husband winced and rubbed his newly bruised cheek.
     "It's wonderful to be here," her tone was all big smiles and perfect, white teeth.
     "Indeed," Francis beamed back, scowl notwithstanding. "We're in for a night of incredible skating. All four of the ladies we're going to show you tonight are incredible artists and technicians, and any one of them could skate away with the gold...."
     Bex took a deep breath. Let the games begin....
     She didn't have to wait long for the fun to start. Lian Reilley was the first broadcast-worthy skater up. As the barely five foot tall, sixteen-year-old, Chinese-American skater in the golden yellow dress with matching ponytail holders and gloves entered the arena, every available 24/7 camera whipped around to capture her awkward, plastic skate-guards-over-blades trudge toward the ice. While Lian looked straight into the lens nearest her, grinned, waved, and shouted, "Hi, everyone back home, I love you!" Bex opened her research manual to the Lian Reilley page and, looking from right to left, made sure that both Howarths had done the same. On the right-hand side of the document was Lian's name, her age, her hometown, her coach, her choreographer, her parents' names, her competitive record to date, her height and weight (at least the height and weight she was willing to commit to), the name of her music and all of her elements listed in order of performance. On the left-hand side of the document was her name again (Bex had learned she could never write the skater's name often enough as, at her first competition, Francis accidentally turned to the wrong page and was busy waxing poetic about Erin Simpson as Jordan Ares was skating), the correct pronunciation of her name (another thing she couldn't count on Francis to remember), her record to date written in full sentences instead of numbers this time, and such fun biographical data as the fact that Lian had been adopted as an infant from China, that her favorite color was gold, and that "ten years from now I'd like to be a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Harvard graduate, and touring with my own ice show as I finish medical school."
     The future Dr. Skating Star stepped onto the ice and assumed her opening position, arms raised, looking heavenward, her face a mask of deep meditation.
     Francis turned off his mike and mumbled, "She looks like she's surrendering."
     On air, Diana chimed, "Her costume is quite one-of-a-kind and lovely. It took fourteen man-hours to bead it all!  Lian told us earlier that she always wears gold at competition because it inspires her and makes her work harder!" Once again, Bex guessed that Diana thought she had Francis figured out. Since, with Lian's program, Diana had parroted an opinion Francis expressed earlier only to see him turn on a dime, disagree completely, and embarrass her on air, she must have thought that by expressing an opinion she knew he didn't agree with, she would at least be prepared for his inevitable attack on her. Bex was rather proud of herself for figuring it all out. With this being the last event of the season, she felt like she was finally getting somewhere in her decoding of the Howarths.
     Mistake Number Two.
     For both Bex and Diana.
     After a half-century partnership, Francis was inevitably one step ahead of his wife. Instead of giving her the vehement denial she expected, he once again pulled the rug out from under her by—go figure; Bex figured she might as well give it up—agreeing wholeheartedly.
     "Absolutely, my dear. Absolutely. Xenia Trubin may be the best Russia has to offer, but she is no match for America's one-two-three punch of Simpson, Ares, and Reilley. Her technical skills are weak, and no amount of arm waving, rushing from place to place, or rather unseemly—if I do say so myself—spinning positions will be able to cover that up."
     Even as Francis was speaking, Xenia finished up another of her so-called unseemly spins, nose pressed to her knee, bottom in the air, arms—well, Francis was right about that—flapping by her sides, and collapsed on the ice, breathing heavily. After a dramatic respite on the ground of either recuperating rest or ongoing fear of capitalism, she slowly stood up and, after bowing to the judges, waved to the crowd, her face an unreadable mask of not happiness, not sadness, not relief, but determination. Xenia knew that her biggest battle was still ahead. She didn't appear to give a damn that the crowd's applause was perfunctory and lukewarm while they strained their necks to get a glimpse of Erin Simpson, warming up rinkside. When Xenia skated, she gave the impression of not even noticing that the audience was there. All she cared about were the judge's marks.
     Her numbers came up rather quickly. She'd barely sat down in the kiss-and-cry area and taken a parched sip of bottled water and kissed the indifferent flower girl who dumped an armload of limp roses at her feet, before they popped up on the scoreboard, indicating uniform votes. And, indeed, every judge on the panel but one gave her a 5.8 for technical merit, and a 5.9 for presentation. The Russian gave her two 5.9s.
     "Those are a little high," Francis mused, stating the obvious for the service, Bex guessed, of the blind in the audience.
     "But, there's still plenty of room on top for Erin," Diana bolstered.
     "Oh, absolutely, no doubt about it. Erin Simpson is certainly capable of earning straight 5.9s and maybe even some 6.0s for her technique, her jumps are that solid. And, to be honest, her presentation is equal, if not superior to Xenia's."

Murder on Ice: Enhanced Multimedia Edition, complete with skating videos included in the text, as well as all of Alina Adams' Figure Skating Mysteries are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

3 comments:

tudor3x8 said...

I absolutely adored your figure skating novels! Do you plan on writing any more in the future? I feel like you left the romance between Bex and Craig up in the air :)

Alina Adams said...

Thanks so much! I do hope to have a new one out by Christmas time. What kind of story would you like to read?

tudor3x8 said...

Honestly, I'm just a huge fan of your entire skate crime series... although I think "On Thin Ice" was probably my favorite. I'd love to see another one coming out! As a former competitive figure skater, the way you write really rings true to the darker sides of skating.