Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why "not being ready for primetime" will soon be a selling point

Magic Johnson - has there ever been a smarter basketball player? Has a point guard ever been more deserving of the label "court general?"

Surprising then that Magic is such a subpar basketball commentator. The guy sits there awkwardly saying unbelievably generic things in unbelievably generic ways.

Not everyone who excels at something excels at discussing it. But I think there is something else sabotaging Magic; I smell hours of "broadcast training" courses on him. He has been turned into a human laugh track in an oversized six piece suit. If he were any more canned, his comments would come out shaped like Alpo.

Magic appears to be a smooth communicator when he is being himself. Check out this clip for a remarkable contrast between Canned Magic and Real Magic. In this clip you see Magic in front of a reporter's mic, sounding like an inarticulate substitute teacher. Then a fellow player walks by and the two interact - Magic's verbal dynamism quickly becomes apparent. It really does sound like two different people speaking.

Part of the reason Magic Johnson's talk show failed was because he couldn't talk. On The Magic Hour he was stiff, lost for words, futilely scrambling to end sentences smoothly. I'm sure this is because some hack trained him on "how to be a TV host" and in doing so rubbed away his natural speaking skills. What too many producers/managers don't understand - and I think podcasts are exposing this fact to the world - is that there is more than one way to be ready for primetime. If Magic had been encouraged to talk like he did in the locker room; if it had been the The Magic Shit-Talking Hour, it would have been a much better show.

And then there's Phil Simms, the out of tune, AW SHUCKS NFL analyst that no one can stand. The guy's chatter is more painful than a late hit, and I think the same forces are at work. Listen to the beginning of this clip; listen to how fluid his banter is with Dan Patrick when he isn't trying speak like a broadcaster.

No one likes radio announcers, no one likes paint-by-numbers TV announcers...so why do we keep training them to be that way? Why have a color commentator if you're going to train him to be colorless? I have high hopes that the explosion of successful podcasts - complete with "unprofessional" modes of speech - will help put an end to this received "wisdom" about their being one "proper" way to speak on television. Ex-athletes are there to be ex-athletes, not Sotheby's auctioneers.

I don't know if Charles Barkley has had TV training classes. If he has, it doesn't show...which is why millions tune in to watch. I'm not saying Simms or Johnson would ever be that entertaining, but at least they wouldn't be wearing out mute buttons all over the country.

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