Archive for February, 2006

Are The Olympics Over Yet?
February 21, 2006

I apologize, faithful readers. It has been too long since I have entertained and enlightened you with the genius that is my blog. I have several excuses: Car problems, (minor) health problems, DirecTV problems (don’t get me started on DirecTV — if that service wasn’t the only one to offer the NFL Sunday Ticket, it would be out of my house faster than one of my son’s soiled Pull-Ups). It was also Valentine’s Day, and any male of average intelligence knows that that day requires planning and preparation. Hey, now that Dick Cheney has shown the world that you can shoot someone in the face and not face criminal charges, I’m not taking any chances.

But my lack of blogging is also probably an unconscious response to what most would consider the major sporting event of the last several days — the Winter Olympics. I don’t get the Olympics. OK, I get the hockey, but that’s about it. For me, it’s a bunch of competitions that normally wouldn’t cause a blip on any sports fan’s radar screen — curling, bobsledding, snowboarding — but put them together and we are suddenly supposed to care. It’s akin to the logic behind the formation of the new CW television network: Take a bunch of things that no one wants to watch and put them together on the same channel! Guess what, people weren’t watching Cuts before, and they’re not going to watch it just because it can now be paired up with Living with Fran. As far as I can tell, the only time you can take several unsuccessful pieces and put them together into a successful whole is with classic rock tours. Hey, I’m not going to spend any money to see REO Speedwagon or Journey or Toto or Styx or Boston separately, but put them together for an all-day festival? Rosanna and Amanda, I can’t fight this feeling and I don’t stop believin’ that I will come sail away for that rockfest.

Now if the Olympics would just exist and go away without interfering with my life, that would be OK. But what always bugged me about them — especially the Winter Olympics, which take place during February sweeps month — is how they knocked my favorite TV shows off the air for a couple of weeks. And not just on the network carrying the Games, but on the other networks too, who never seemed to want to “waste” new episodes of their shows against the Olympics. But this year is different. New episodes of 24, Survivor, Lost, Dancing with the Stars, and Desperate Housewives are holding their own or beating the Games, and the juggernaut that is American Idol is simply crushing the Olympics in head-to-head competition. Primetime ratings — the only ratings that matter — for the Torino games are down 50 percent from the Salt Lake City games four years ago and 25 percent from the Nagano games eight years ago. Granted, it’s unfair to compare viewership levels of the Torino games with the Salt Lake City games, since the US locale of the 2002 Winter Olympics allowed for live primetime coverage and not tape delayed primetime coverage NBC is shackled with this year. But the fact is that ratings are down, and now that the other networks have learned that Olympic coverage is clearly beatable, expect them to compete more in the future and drive Olympic ratings down further.

This increased competition is clearly a positive, as Olympic lovers can take heart in the fact that coverage will certainly always attract enough viewers to be a constant on “free” TV for years, probably decades, to come. Others less enamored of the Olympics can look forward to better TV options in the future. Sports fans can continue to rely on college and pro basketball, auto racing, and even (gulp) arena football to get us through the slow weeks between the Super Bowl and March Madness. The only loser here — besides the IOC — appears to be NBC; the network, having shelled out $614 million for rights to the 2006 Winter Olympics, not only has to be embarrassed at the beating it’s getting by the cheaply-produced American Idol, but it also seems likely they will have to give Olympic advertisers “make goods” — free commercial time for not living up to ratings guarantees given to its advertisers.

Looks like NBC will be joining me and many others in a sigh of relief at the truth of this statement: The Olympics are almost over. Whew!

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Super Bowl and Less-Than-Super TV Alternatives
February 3, 2006

There’s only one yearly event that’s more disappointing than the Super Bowl, and that’s New Year’s Eve. But at least on New Year’s Eve, you have a day off work to recover from your massive hangover.

Actually, by my count five of the last eight Super Bowls have been very entertaining games, but the problem comes with the anticipation and excitement that football fans bring to the last game of the year. Blame the NFL for making us wait an extra week and me and you for being more interested in Joey Porter’s rants than the President’s State of the Union address.

Hey, I don’t mean to be a drag. I love the Super Bowl and I’m going to sit through every minute of it even if it means handing my son a bucket of Dum-Dum suckers to keep him quiet so that I can hear every word of Al Michaels and John Madden’s swansong as an NFL broadcast team. But these days I approach the game like I approach the new Woody Allen movies or new Rolling Stones discs — with reduced expectations. But hey, both the Woodman and the Stones pleasantly surprised me this year, so maybe the Super Bowl will as well.

But in case the game stinks, is there some intelligent television counter-programming out there? Let’s see what you can flip to should the game measure down to your lowest expectations:

A) E! has a 10-hour marathon counting down the 101 Sexiest Celebrity Bodies. Personally, I rather see 10 hours of the least sexy celebrity bodies. When I’m drinking beer and eating Taco Doritos by the fistful, I don’t need my wife distracted by footage of Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom. Give me Vic Tayback and Wilford Brimley. Besides, I can’t support E! now that they’ve given a reality series to Lisa Loeb. Who’s Lisa Loeb, you ask? Exactly my point.

B) USA is televising a seven-hour viewer’s choice marathon of Monk. I’ve never seen Monk, but any show that brings together former stars of Wings and Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place can’t be worth seven hours of my time.

C) TBS is for some reason airing sixteen straight episodes of the truly awful sitcom Yes, Dear. Creator Greg Garcia has since redeemed himself for coming up with the great My Name Is Earl, so that leaves the show’s cast, directors, writers, accountants, hair stylists, stunt doubles, and boom operators as people who should never be allowed to work again in any job that doesn’t involve some form of bathroom sanitation.

D) The Hallmark Channel will run a ten-episode marathon of Little House on the Prairie. Michael Landon’s hair rules over Troy Polamalu’s anyday of the week.

E) The History Channel is running something called Sex in the Bible, with the still-alive Dr. Ruth Westheimer discussing the “passion and sexual deviancy” found in the Bible. I’ve got some advice for the FCC: Now that you don’t need to monitor Howard Stern anymore, perhaps you should take a gander at what they are getting away with at The History Channel. I haven’t heard of anything so offensive since FOX announced Skating with Celebrities.

Well, there you go. Looks like you are better off sticking with the game on Sunday, no matter how dull it gets. Oh, and for those of you who waded through this long column, here’s a prediction: Seahawks 30, Steelers 21. Why the Seahawks? I was impressed at how thoroughly they disposed of Carolina. Why not the Steelers? Too many “must win” games in a row. Bound to catch up with them. Bottom line: I like Holmgren, Hasselbeck, and Alexander more than Cowher, Big Ben, and Bettis.

Enjoy the game. It’s a long wait until next season.

Hard Times for Badger Fans
February 1, 2006

Remember the good old days? No, not when you could fill up your car for ten bucks or when Rick Moranis was still making movies (“Honey I Shrunk the Kids”? Gold, Jerry, gold!). I’m talking about the good old days of January 2006. Specifically, January 14, 2006. For most Badger fans, things have been pretty bleak since then.

Let’s hop into Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s Wayback Machine to the fourteenth day of the new year to see what a difference a couple of weeks can make: That afternoon, the UW men’s basketball team beat up on Northwestern 68-52 to improve its overall record to 14-2 while simultaneously improving to 4-0 in Big Ten games for the first time since the 1961-62 season. Later that night, the UW men’s hockey team pummeled Colorado College 9-1 to build an eight-point advantage on top of the WCHA standings. Badger fans were happier than George Costanza eating a brick of cheese the size of a car battery.

But in the last two weeks, things for the Badgers have been worse than Andrew Ridgely’s solo career. The men’s hockey team, minus injured goaltender Brian Elliott, has dropped four straight. The men’s basketball team has not only lost Marcus Landy and Greg Stiemsma to academic ineligibility but has lost four out of five, including an embarrassing home loss to North Dakota State University. Now I’ve got no beef with NDSU, their student body, or the fine people of Fargo, North Dakota, the city that NDSU calls home. But the only thing the NDSU Bison should be beating the Wisconsin Badgers in is known cases of rickets disease per team.

So is there hope for Badger faithful? Fortunately, yes. The Badger hockey team, despite its losing streak, is still tied with Denver and Minnesota for first place in the WCHA. Since both the Pioneers and the Gophers are off this week, the Badgers can regain sole possession of first place with a strong showing against the 5-12-3 Minnesota-Duluth, who are tied for the next-to-worst record in the WCHA. Unfortunately for Bucky, the hockey team doesn’t play again at the Kohl Center until March 3-4.

The basketball team is tougher to figure out. What once looked like a dominant team is now looking like a team in crisis control. But if Bo Ryan’s squad can quickly regain their early-season form, a return trip to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is well within the realm of possibility. This Saturday’s game against the 7-12 Purdue Boilermakers seems like a good opportunity to start stringing together some victories.

But if both teams continue their downward spiral, Badger fans may be able to find solace in some perhaps unfamiliar waters — the Badger women’s hockey team. Mark Johnson’s top-ranked squad is a very impressive 23-2-1 and is currently riding a 12-game unbeaten streak. Of course, television coverage of women’s hockey is nonexistent, so fans wanting to check out the women’s team will actually have to come down to the Kohl Center (next chance: February 10-11 against Minnesota), but it is worth the effort. Especially if recent trends continue and they become the only Badger team worth cheering on.