thank god for usa network



Thank god for USA Network. In their decades of covering the U.S. Open, they’ve settled into a style that’s worlds better than CBS‘ (such a relief!). They also keep it consistent and simple: no unnecessary graphics; minimal “comeback kid” or “on the rise” profiles; ample servings of quality matches not involving Americans; a nice sampling of play (i.e., they’ll cover those outer court, low-Q-rating matches in the first week); and they take air breaks of very reasonable length — essentially just enough to cover the changeovers.

The Commentators:

  • Jim Courier — Wow. Where does one begin? With Mr. Courier, it seems we have a perfect balance of pros (brilliance) and cons (hubris, arrogance). Let’s start with the pros: here’s a guy who can back up the goods. Not unlike Johnny Mac, he also has tremendous access to the players and makes good use of it. He’s smart guy, surprisingly articulate, and occasionally makes insightful cultural references.But the true bonus with Jim is his tendency to deconstruct tennis broadcasting: “I’ve just been told I can’t say ‘hot chicks’ anymore,” he said the other day in reference to a comment about Safin’s former box-sitters. Or “I’m being told I need to wrap it up,” he’ll say, I’m sure to the great chagrin of his producers. Novice? Yes. Novel? Definitely.

    Another example: the other night, after a long post-match analysis from Jim, host Al Trautwig asked if he wanted to keep going, upon which Jim said, “Okay. Can I read your prompter?” This brashness with which Courier tears down the fourth wall is quite a breath of fresh air.

    He even got into it with Tracy Austin, insisting that Radwanska, who upset defending champion Maria Sharapova, used gamesmanship and broke the locker room code of ethics in attacking Masha’s second serve. Austin countered that this brashness is just the way players are today. Courier’s apparent anger, verging on hostility, brought a little verité into the USA Network booth.

    All that said, Courier is far from perfect: quite often he is the epitome of smug. “Let me tell you how much I know about this; and let me also tell you how much I know about that,” he seems to be saying. He’s passionate — which of course is important — but when he continues to expound deep into a game without stopping, he’s cut off his nose to spite his (and our) face(s). One wonders whether Courier has spent any time reviewing tapes of his broadcasts; if he does, one hopes that he’ll notice his tendency to ramble. Once he corrects this, we may have a truly great player-cum-commentator on our hands.

  • Tracy Austin — All designer business suits (bright blue ones, no less) and mind-numbing, somewhat grating patter, Austin has milked her playing days into a commentary career like a character on The Surreal Life. (Racqonteur gives her a C-.)
  • Al Trautwig — Nice deep pipes and always solidly on-the-ball, Trautwig is the best studio host USA has had. His transitions are impeccable and I’ve never seen him falter in improv mode. A weakness: in his one-on-ones, he doesn’t allow the interviewee much time to respond. But at least he keeps things moving.
  • Michael Barkann — This long-time roving reporter is great at what he does, and far too often it’s a relatively thankless task: I wouldn’t want to be interviewing players who clearly don’t want to be interviewed (which seems to be the case before every Ashe stadium match), but he does it (though I’m fairly sure it wasn’t his idea). He’s also accomplished at the mostly heinous celebrity-in-the-crowd interviews, an equally unenviable task that he manages to get done (thankfully there have been few of them thus far in ’07, though we were horrified to see him sit down for a long exchange with Donny Trump during the Ferrer-Nadal match). He’s at his best doing the roving reporter thing, perhaps throwing in a quick exchange with a fan or two.
  • Ted Robinson — Almost no complaints; there is nothing about Ted that’s not to like. He has a great memory for past matches and players; he keeps things moving but doesn’t ever seem to talk too much; he throws out some relevant anecdotes when things on the court are a little slow; and he knows how to keep it brief at crucial periods in a match. His one downside, which has been minimal at this Open, is his tendency to set McEnroe up for patting himself on the back, which he (Mac) clearly doesn’t need any help with. Still, overall Robinson is a key fixture for USA’s coverage. (add Ted’s blog to your reading list.)
  • Bill Macatee — he’s substantially better here than on CBS. He’s a nice, dry, straight man with an ample smidgeon of personality. Easy enough to tune out, or in, as is appropriate.
  • John McEnroe — Hey Mac: keep the focus on the match and the players and off yourself, and we’re all good. Has the way that Mac has been doing a little biographical digging, and age comparing (is Hyung-Taik Lee the oldest player left, or is Moya?) shown signs of maturing? Heaven forbid.

(photo of Courier by mugley)

Michael Shaw is currently following the Open from his couch on the West Coast.

RELATED POSTS
>> TSF’s u.s. open archive
>> michael shaw archive

Comments

  1. I appreciate all of the hours of coverage on USA. But, I’m not sold on Jim Courier. I find him to be rather annoying especially when he makes idiotic/borderline-racist comments (e.g. No player should have a last name longer that 8 letters). It’s an international sport; just get over the fairly tough pronunciation of foreign names already; it’s just not funny…

    As far as Michael Barkann, the only thing that excites me about him is that his name sounds so similar to Michael Vartan! :)

  2. I agree with Hooligan Kat! The best part about that eight letters thing was initially he said something like five letters and his broadcasting partner was like “Well, you’d have to be Jim Couri then.” Oops!

    I wrote a whole thing on my blog about how I loved Jim Courier and then I had to write another one about how I hate him. To Hooligan Kat’s “borderline racist” comments I’d add his constant, beyond-borderline misogynistic comments, dissing the women’s game at every opportunity — women don’t understand tennis strategy (this about Jonas Bjorkman, whos strategic skills sure have made him a lot more successful than Justine Henin’s have made her!) Women cheat (Radwanska), women don’t work hard enough to justify their pay, and on and on.

    McEnroe, meanwhile, loves the women’s game! Sure he doesn’t have that much interesting to say most of the time, but a) Courier looks like Eric Stoltz from that Cher movie “Mask” and therefore should not be on TV and b) McEnroe, at least, is a truly great player.

  3. How did Radwanska allegedly cheat? I don’t get it.

    Courier DOES look like Eric Stoltz (also from Jerry Maguire). To be fair, he was also a great player. Two or three French Opens in a row, eh? Those were days. Americans choke on clay anymore.

    Michael Barkann is awful and awkward as a court reporter. So stilted and standing too close. His pre-match hallway corral of Jankovic made me squirm.

  4. Jon: Radwanska wasn’t cheating. She was just mentally freaking out Maria on Maria’s second serve by stepping practically to the service line to receive it.

  5. Thanks, Joshua! You’re absolutely right about Jim’s misogynistic attitude too! I didn’t even have the energy last night to address that in my original comment…

  6. Tracy Austin also made the bizarre claim that Radwa’s coming in on the second serve somehow constituted “cheating.”

  7. I would like to second (third? fourth?) the “Jim Courier sucks” comments. I seem to remember Courier being a kind of quiet, respectful player, trying to speak french after he won at Roland Garros, always a little less flashy than his compatriots. His commentary is grating and, as has already been noted, offensive. I have muted my TV at times just to give myself a break from his inane patter. When he was getting text messages from Andy Roddick and mentioned it multiple times it was making me crazy. And talking about needing coffee. I need someone else to talk, for crying out loud. He strikes me as a little too super-jock, cocky sporto which I don’t find helpful or endearing.

    In general, I find sometimes the former player commentators get wrapped up in arguing out the details of their analysis when, say McEnroe and Austin have a different take on things. I’m fine hearing what they have to say, but I don’t want to hear it everytime there is a little stop in play for the next 20 minutes.

  8. dance-a-vic says:

    Courier announcing Roddick’s text-message struck me as bragging (“Look who my peeps are!”) and a violation of Andy’s privacy (does Andy want his text messages read to a worldwide audience?). And yes, the comments about long foreign names was xenophobic and made him look foolish.

    Barkan is god awful. His interview of Seinfeld & Larry David was chock-full of akward moments and really stupid questions. And the hallway interviews reveal nothing of any substance as the players offer nothing more than pat answers.

    Ted Robinson practically gushes over McEnroe. Play a drinking game with it! You’ll be drunk before the 1st set tiebreak. And he loves to rag on the Williams sisters. Roddick can be just about as curt with the press as Serena is, but I’ve never heard Ted take him to task for it.

  9. I missed the “No player should have a last name longer that 8 letters” comment from Courier- can someone recall when that was?

    Of course that sounds bad, and as I implied in my post, Courier is making plenty of rookie mistakes and needs to cut his comments by half (and I agree w/you Ryan about his “his inane patter.” I think many of you are being far too harsh that:
    a) he’s a misogynist
    and
    b) he’s far too ugly to be on TV

    I think you guys are being far too harsh. The only commentator you’re not picking out for complaints is Bill Macatee; if all the commentators were similar in style to him, you’d fall asleep. If you can imagine watching a match with absolutely no commentary (I know, some of you might prefer this), you’d find it too quiet and even a bit lonely.
    The commentators are there for color, and you have to take the good w/the bad. If you really feel Courier has consistently gone over the line (which never occurred to me, and I watched many, many hours of coverage), try putting your arguments into a concise and well-written letter, and email it off to the appropriate contact (perhaps a head of PR?) at USA Network, and then you’ll know you’ve done what you can.

    Otherwise, perhaps a little sympathy is called for.

  10. dance-a-vic says:

    The USA coverage team, to my mind, is the best in the sport. Or any sport for that matter (that I follow anyway). Ted Robinson wrote on his blog that they never rehearse, they conversate freely. And that’s what I enjoy about it. The viewers are essentially eavesdropping on a group of tennis friends who have entertaining chemistry. You don’t get that on the Tennis Channel, where the commentary is incredibly stiff and play-by-play. No Bolitterri impressions! (keep em coming Mary. And yes, she’s CBS and not USA, I know.)

    Perhaps this team does such a stellar job that their occasional flubs command our attention. It’s what they do to the players, no harm in us doing it to them from time to time.

  11. Michael-take a second listen for Courier’s comments on women and the women’s game. He consistently makes derogatory comments about WTA players–from equal prize money to their work ethic–and questionable ones about women in general.

    And Courier has been on USA for at least 4 years. When does his ‘newbie’ status expire?

    I agree that he can give a fresh, unstudied take, but this year his brashness has trumped the good stuff.

  12. A-
    I’ll have to hold off on the Courier review until next year, I suppose, since USA’s coverage ended. All I recall noticing was how he called Radawska (sp?) for her gamesmanship against Sharapova….otherwise I must not have been paying attention, or missed all the anti-WTA material.

    I thought this was Courier’s 2nd year, 3rd at most; OK: he’s not a newbie. And I’ll also agree w/you that he needs to take a big slice of humble pie.

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