Signs that your U.S. Open telecast has cratered: When Al Roker - yes, NBC's weather dude - is the most compelling guy on the show. When Doppler Radar patterns for Long Island are more familiar than the names of the leaders. When Tiger Woods's umbrella is more exciting than Tiger Woods. When the leaders finish the 18th on Sunday - and you have three more hours of network time to kill.
Yes, all that and much, much less made this weekend's broadcast of the rain-soaked U.S. Open about as memorable as a C-SPAN Joe Biden marathon. With Ricky Barnes as surprise headliner (wasn't he Jon Voigt's kid in The Champ?) and a Monday finish assured from the first rain drop on Thursday, it was heavy weather for the Peacock Network's crew. Leading NBC's resident wit Bob Costas to quip, "Welcome to the latest instalment of Rain Delay Theatre."
Take Saturday's tempus fugit on the estimated finish day between Roker and Costas.
Roker: "When you finish up on Thursday it's going to spectacular [weather]"
Costas: "Can you run some errands for me? I have some toiletries and whatnot I need to replenish."
Roker: "It's the whatnot that I'm worried about."
That allowed our pal Johnny Miller to poke fun at Roker's credibility as the clouds mystically parted on Long Island.
NBC anchor Dan Hicks: "You challenging America's weatherman?"
Miller: "Al's pretty good, but he might be making a bogey on that one."
Hicks: "Johnny, you've now taken on everyone. Throwing barbs at Al Roker."
With Woods and Phil Mickelson slopping futilely around Bethpage Black like Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain, desperate producers channelled more Roker/Miller. The 1973 U.S. Open champ again suggested the Today Show weatherman was one cloud shy of a cold front, so Roker feigned indignation. "The Man does his job … I come in on my day off , and I get smacked down by Johnny Miller."
Things got so bad that a bored Miller ("Dr. Doom" to the NBC crew) started ragging on guys in other sports. Told that Rafael Nadal was skipping Wimbledon to rest bad knees, Miller cracked, "Hey Nadal, don't you have Advil in Spain?"
And just think, round four continues today.
Once again, USGA executive director David Fay got plenty of face time in the NBC booth. While his observations and rulings were interesting to golf wonks, you have to ask yourself why he's on the air. Does Gary Bettman ride shotgun on NHL broadcasts? Does Wimbledon's chief umpire exchange bon mots with John McEnroe? Is there not some line being crossed between the media and the people they're covering? Could NBC not employ someone neutral to discuss rulings? Just asking.
Have Your Phil
Speaking of rulings, revealing wild sound Saturday as Phil Mickelson worked a USGA official to have a wild drive be declared embedded, not unplayable. As the official listened skeptically, Phil insisted the ball had buried on the fly - a claim already debunked by NBC's on-site reporter, Dottie Pepper. "What's your opinion?" asks a solicitous Mickelson. Nice try, said the USGA suit. Crestfallen, Lefty turned on his heel and said, "I'll take an unplayable." Now you know what all the lip flap is about.
NBC was smart to amp the volume on No.18 Sunday as the crowd played blind-man's-bluff with Barnes to help him find his buried green-side shot. More juicy play-by-play after Angel Cabrera chunked a chip shot on Saturday. Cabrera could clearly be heard thumping his own golf bag in disgust. "He's hot, you can hear the bag taking the damage back there," Roger Maltbie said.
Ian Poulter is a beauty. From his whack wardrobe to his bold pronouncements, there's never a dull moment with the droll Englishman. Fittingly, Poulter's a Twitter freak, posting on everything from the popcorn at the Farmingdale Cineplex to iPhone apps to the USGA playing roulette with starting times. Poults - as he's dubbed himself - even used his Twitter site to conduct an auction for a Sunday pass to the Open. Usual Suspects has vaulted Poults to No.3 with a bullet on our list of sticky golf stars.
Athletes say they don't read the papers or listen to the radio. But if you're a member of the NHL Players' Association, the media is the only place to find out what your alleged partners at the league are up to.
Apparently the players were unaware that Calgary may get the doubleheader Winter Classic game this New Year's Day - until the story broke in the papers, leaving Glenn Healy, director of player services for the NHLPA to say, "We have never been approached by the league about a second outdoor game ever in Calgary. And if they want to approach us, then our numbers are in the book." Yeah, that lockout changed everything.
Bucking The Trend
HBO has announced comedian Artie Lange (Mad TV, Too Fat To Fish) is banned from HBO Sports after sabotaging Joe Buck's debut on the network. Saying producers had told him to liven up things for Buck, Lange vulgarly mocked the boyish host's choice of websites and called Jessica Simpson "a Chris Farley fatso."
Said Buck to USA Today: "I thought that spending time on a treadmill felt long. That was like eight or nine minutes that turned into an eternity … Do I think it went too far? Yes. Will he be back? If it's up to me, no."
Certainly not after all the publicity the new show got. You hate that publicity. Who wants publicity in TV anyhow? Not Joe Buck.