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AFL and NRL grand finals TV coverage marred by vaudevillian commentary and one-sided analysis

A TV commentator stands in an empty grandstand holding a microphone during an AFL match.

As much as sport has become a product to be neatly packaged and presented in the highest-rating TV timeslot rather than the one most convenient for attendees, some of us still prefer to go to the game.

This was the first winter in 30 years that I could not attend an AFL or NRL match. The result was an unusual and inevitably unsatisfying reliance on TV coverage that made me yearn for my hard, moulded-plastic seat.

This is partly a matter of perception. As has been explained adroitly on this site by Russell Jackson, the TV cameras do not — and perhaps cannot — capture the vast Australian rules oval (and even the smaller rugby league grid) as completely as the human eye.

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Then there is the experience of attendance: the companionship, the passion, the rise and fall of the crowd and that joyful or solemn walk from the ground to a nearby pub to digest the result with friends.

For all these reasons, the regular attendee can feel confined by and even captive to a TV broadcast that provides only a two-dimensional representation of our usually three-dimensional perception and none of the social niceties.

But on the most significant weekend for both the AFL and NRL, the greatest bugbear of this captive season was laid bare — the foibles of contemporary TV commentary and analysis.

There has been a gradual shift in the way AFL games are called. Once the action and the audience were the primary focus, now the game is as often a muse for chummy colleagues exchanging in-house banter.

BT and co flip the switch to vaudeville

A TV commentator stands in an empty grandstand holding a microphone during an AFL match.
Brian Taylor began his commentary career on radio. Now the former footballer is Channel Seven’s most prominent caller.(AAP: Scott Barbour, file photo)

This style seems to have its origins in FM radio, from where Seven’s most prominent commentator, Brian Taylor — BT to his colleagues and legion of fans — and several other callers have emerged.

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Taylor was excellent at engaging the audience of 21 to 45-year-old males Triple M expertly cultivated.

The blustery, blokey tone, the deliberate mispronunciations, the confected nicknames, the elongated vowels and the macho confrontations with fellow callers were hallmarks of the most successful radio shtick since another vaudevillian, Rex Hunt, hit the airwaves.

Like Taylor, Hunt was recruited by Seven. Although when it became obvious his bombastic style distracted from and even contradicted the vision rather than complementing it, he returned to the radio box. No shame there.

This also explains why one antidote prescribed to poor TV commentary — “Just turn it down and put on the radio!” — doesn’t work well. Radio commentary is a separate art form that often jars with the visual medium that at its best embraces contemplative silence.

Although, it is apparent the reality show generation is accustomed to constant noise and the commentators talking to each other, not them. Indeed, many prefer it this way.

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Perhaps this is why the style of BT and others who provide a kind of Gogglebox Footy experience, shouting over the game and each other rather than adding to the vision, is rewarded with big-game status.

Personally, throughout the AFL season I could not help wondering why the legacy of the game’s greatest TV caller, Dennis Cometti, had been so quickly forgotten.

Cometti was mellifluous but also precise, prescient and — if anything — underestimated for his football knowledge.

The dry one-liners for which he was renowned — “he entered the pack optimistically and emerged misty optically” — were only occasional asides rather than the cornerstone of an otherwise astute commentary that left you feeling you knew more about what you had just seen.

Gould gets Storm fans’ goat

Nine’s veteran rugby league caller Ray Warren, with whom Cometti might be compared, remains the reliable, even soothing voice of his game.

A rugby league TV commentator walks on the ground at an NRL game in Brisbane.A rugby league TV commentator walks on the ground at an NRL game in Brisbane.
Phil Gould’s reluctance to give credit to the NRL premiership-winning Melbourne side rankled Storm fans.(AAP: Darren England, file photo)

It was the performance of Warren’s offsider, Nine analyst Phil Gould, that rankled Melburnians, particularly, on grand final night.

As a former Penrith player, premiership coach and, until last season, the club’s general manager, it was inevitable Gould would have a leaning toward the Panthers.

But as “Gus” trained his monocular on the Panthers it was fortunate Nine provided vision. If you had only listened to his comments you would have assumed Penrith had romped to a record-breaking victory.

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Gould’s antipathy towards the Storm — or, more kindly, his unstinting appreciation of their opposition — has become a reliable, even dryly amusing part of the Storm grand-final-viewing experience and plays into Melbourne’s us-against-them mentality.

But, on this occasion, Gould lurched to the absurd when he declared the lopsided scoreboard was “so unfair to the Panthers”, Melbourne’s scoring feats and unstinting defence having somehow escaped his attention.

By the time Gould and his fellow commentators had abandoned the narrative-disrupting Storm dominance to engage in a State of Origin preview, it was well beyond an “ear of the beholder” belief that the coverage was an in-house Penrith production.

The Storm were left to provide the element of admiration and respect themselves, Cameron Smith’s gracious victory speech an antidote to the almost grudging regard for their outstanding performance.

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Now to the cricket season, where the couch bound have recently been presented a clear distinction: Seven’s coverage, led by accomplished broadcasters Tim Lane and Alison Mitchell, has catered for the devotee, while Fox Sports’ more raucous commentary has covered the T20 generation.

Although, after a winter held captive to the TV coverage, I doubt I’m the only one eager to get to the ground and let the action speak for itself.

Source: AFL NEWS ABC