In experimenting in a broadcast booth without a traditional play by play man, TNT accomplished their first goal.
They got me to watch.
A late season game between the Thunder and Warriors wouldn't be much cause for interest except for fans of either team or committed NBA followers. The all analyst booth of Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, and Chris Webber was a draw for sports fans who might be curious how a game would sound without the traditional setup of play by play and analyst. Given the fact that every other nationally televised broadcast is constructed that way, the roundtable feel of last night's TNT broadcast was something unique.
After watching the entirety of last night's game (joined in progress after Knicks-Bulls went to overtime), the format has enough potential to be pursued again. Kerr weaved back and forth between traditional play by play, calling out who made baskets and the score of the game, with asking questions of Miller and Webber and making observations himself. If anything, last night's game was a showcase for Steve Kerr, who showed the depth and versatility of his talent as an announcer. This is a role that nobody in broadcasting has ever tried before, and Kerr made it sound as simple as taking open jump shots next to Michael Jordan.
While Kerr was good, the structure of the booth showed why the role of a play by play man has been around since the dawn of sports broadcasts. It's kinda important. There weren't many stats given during the broadcast at all. There were times during the friends-at-a-bar nature of the telecast that several possessions went by without much attention paid to the action on the court. Mostly I missed the context of what was happening in the game and which moments were significant, especially when I was writing, checking Twitter, or not attentively watching.
Another issue was the entire broadcast was delivered with the same tone and pitch throughout. There was really nothing differentiating the exciting moments from the lulls in action. This second quarter sequence showed the most glaring weakness of the all analyst setup. A massive block by Russell Westbrook leads straight to a monster dunk by Kevin Durant and it sounds like nothing is happening.
The structure was a positive when the game became a blowout in the second half and the telecast would have become more conversational anyways. While there was something missing from the broadcast, the setup did provide some additional insights, in particular the extra attention paid to offensive sets and crossmatches. The chemistry between the trio was solid (although Webber's a better analyst than Miller, who tended to dominate the airwaves last night) as their relaxed vibe conveyed the atmosphere Turner was probably hoping for – a conversation surrounding the game.
Should Turner or someone else try this again? There were enough engaging moments and intrigue worth giving it another try with some tweaks. Whoever takes the lead role needs to be ready at the drop of a dime to call out a highlight moment with enthusiasm (which Kerr did for a buzzer beating 3 at the end of the first half). And, the focus of the analysts should be more on the game in front of them instead of general topics about the players, teams or the league.
After last night's broadcast, the format isn't going to be the next big thing in broadcasting. It wasn't New Coke either. It was an experiment that might be worth visiting in the lab again as a refreshing change of pace to give sports fans something new and draw them into a game that would normally pass us by.