If you watched the early Sunday games in the NCAA Tournament on CBS between Stanford and Kansas and Kentucky and Wichita State, you may have noticed a common theme.
No, not close exciting basketball.
Crying Kansas Kid and Sad Wichita State girl became the stars of the production. This was true especially in the first game, when a young Kansas fan got more airtime than Bill Self. The kid wasn’t shown just once or twice. No, CBS had a star on its hands. The broadcast went back to him six times in the last minute of the game. Six times! If that isn’t overkill, I don’t know what would qualify.
Crowd shots are nothing new and finding emotional fans in the audience is one of the oldest tricks in the book from a TV production standpoint. But this felt wrong. This felt exploitative. As if every tear that fell was another ratings point in the eyes of the network.
Why would CBS feel the need to keep going back to a crying child six times in the last minute of an NCAA Tournament game? It’s the same reason why NBC played up a tearful interview with Bode Miller during the Olympics. With major sporting events, it’s not enough to focus on the sports anymore. Networks have to find some kind of emotional hook, some kind of storytelling catch, to draw in a wider audience. When you consider the massive audience for these games that don’t watch basketball during the regular season, a crying child speaks to casual fans a lot more than the journey of Tarik Black.
When used in moderate fashion, this can help a telecast. But stay on a crying child too long or miss a game-ending play because you’re too busy focusing on a female fan in the stands, and you begin to lose the game amidst the pumped up theatrical drama. It’s a fine line to walk. CBS crossed it yesterday.