PGA's TV broadcast simply disjointed and lethargic
I want to love the PGA Championship. Really, I do. Each August I know that I’m going to spend more than 30 hours over four days watching the fourth major. If you’re investing that much time, you want that commitment to be returned in kind.
But the truth is, each year I dread PGA Championship week more than a case of the shanks. Believe me, I wish it weren’t so. Years ago I used to cover the PGA of America, and I’ve always liked the folks there. So for the life of me, I can’t understand how, year after year, they can allow their signature event to be such a dismal television production. But they do.
For all of the television hours dedicated to the PGA, the telecasts inevitably feel disjointed and lethargic, ultimately making the event seem smaller than it is. This is especially the case during the early-round coverage on TNT, though I suspect it will continue to be a problem during CBS’ weekend coverage, as it has in past years. If I’m wrong, no one will be happier than me to say as much on Sunday evening.
Part of TNT’s problem is its odd configuration of announcers. Thursday’s coverage opened with Ernie Johnson and Charles Barkley – oops, sorry E.J., wrong season – Ian Baker-Finch setting the scene. They then kicked it to Bill Macatee and Peter Kostis, who, after the first hour, kicked it to Verne Lundquist and Gary McCord. You’ve heard of the baseball term “bullpen-by-committee”? This was announcers-by-committee. And each time new announcers are introduced, we have to break from live action to show them in the booth. Because, you know, why would you want to watch the tournament when you can watch the announcers?
The bigger problem, which I note each year when reviewing the PGA Championship, is the lack of flow to the broadcasts. When I’m watching a major, I want to feel like it’s a big deal. I don’t expect nonstop action, but I want to feel like the producer is giving me something that’s several cuts above the John Deere Classic. Instead, on Thursday it often felt as though we were watching a lot of commercial breaks, interrupted occasionally by shorts bursts of action. For example, in the third hour Thursday, four of the first five segments lasted three minutes, three minutes, four minutes and four minutes. If it’s a major, I don’t want to be reaching for the remote control that often.
I’d also like to see better use of the production toys. We didn’t see Protracer until nearly four hours into the telecast, but we saw several graphics on the “Daily Social Leader,” a PGA.com Twitter experiment.
Speaking of which, on PGA.com they were having their own problems. The webcast focused on Tiger Woods’ group in the morning, Phil Mickelson’s in the afternoon. (No matter how much the PGA Tour tries to promote its young guns, TV people still regard the Tour as “The Tiger & Phil Show.”)
The webcast got off to a rocky start, with cameras having difficulty tracking the opening drives; like a knuckleball, the camera strategy apparently was to pick up the balls when they stopped rolling. Despite only having three players to cover, we didn’t see Martin Kaymer’s second shot on No. 1. There were similar problems tracking shots on No. 2. In fairness, the camera work improved as the day progressed, but you gotta be ready when the bell rings or else viewers are going to do what I, at least temporarily, did: close the browser.
Alas, I can’t turn off the TV – at least, not until I’ve watched another 24 hours of the PGA Championship this weekend. The boss won’t let me. And in truth, I don’t want to. As a golf fan, I get excited about the majors, and I’m always hopeful that I’m going to see something special. A major championship that is produced well is a beautiful thing. So far, the production of the PGA Championship has been something less than that.