John Caldwell’s chapter “Excessive Style” from his book, Televisuality: Style, Crisis, and Authority in American Television challenges the theoretical obsession with the “liveness” of television. He states that, “Television’s “most distinctive function [is] the live transmission of events … The now of the television event is equal to the now of the actual event.” (29). This type of one-to-one relationship makes sense intuitively, in that what is happening on the television screen during a live event does get transmitted to the viewer with little to no delay; however, this idea becomes complicated when considering the level of regulation imposed on events while they are taking place. Caldwell presents a compelling example of this when he states, “Even the domestic broadcasting of live and unscripted media events—like ABC’s Monday Night Football, or major league baseball—are comprehensively planned, scripted, and rehearsed; are in fact highly regulated and rigidly controlled performances, fabricated to fit a restricted block of viewing time.” (31). Staying with Monday Night Football, I take his example to be referring to features like the announcing, commercial breaks, choreography, and essentially every aspect of the event that is not the act of playing football. However, even the flow, or the liveness, of any televised game is compromised by scheduled “media timeouts,” which frequently leave players and coaches milling about for several minutes throughout games. Anyone who has been to a televised football game should be familiar with these periods of dead time in which the game is stopped to allow for commercial breaks for the home audience.
But what happens when “media timeouts” begin to not only affect the perception of liveness for a television audience, and actually come into direct conflict with the progress of a game? This was the case for the University of Notre Dame football in 2010 when coach Brian Kelly took over – installing a no huddle, up tempo offense. This means that there is significantly less time between plays during an offensive drive. Designed to disadvantage a defense, such a strategy also directly clashes with the advertising interests of major networks by eliminating pauses that are traditionally taken advantage of by networks for advertising. Media timeouts suddenly became less available during long offensive drives. Notre Dame has an extremely lucrative, independent televising contract with NBC (They are unaffiliated with any major college football conference – allowing them to orchestrate such a deal independently.). Coach Kelly’s offensive scheme creates economic concerns in the restriction of advertising opportunities for a network paying top dollar to broadcast Notre Dame football (along with the accompanying advertisements) in prime time. The following came from coach Kelly regarding the conversations taking place between Notre Dame and NBC:
“The model out there has been ABC/ESPN for college football just because of the sheer volume of games they carry. There’s a model out there. All we’ve tried to do is address the model that we think would work well with us and there’s got to be a meeting somewhere halfway. I’m very confident we’re going to be able to do the things we want to do in terms of pushing the tempo without having to go to a commercial break.
That conversation’s taken place. Getting into the specifics, I’m not willing to do that, but I can tell you that that conversations between Jack (Swarbrick) and myself from Notre Dame along with the production people at NBC have taken place and I think we’re going to be able to meet somewhere in the middle.”
I would like to suggest that, in this case, the myth of “liveness” that Caldwell addresses is even more extreme than he lets on – compromising not only live transmission, but also the very nature of football. Television essentially reshapes broadcasted events like football. Does this mean football is incompatible with broadcast? Certainly not, just look at the outrageous statistics for viewership. However, it does intensify the already unstable claim for liveliness addressed by Caldwell in the broadcast of events like college football.