Welcome to Television's Unsolved Mysteries. Tonight's subject: television's unsolved mysteries. The MacArthur Foundation will give a genius grant to the first person who can resolve the following riddles, imponderables, conundrums and math problems. Pencils ready?
1. Explain the long-standing television sign-off, "For John Madden, I'm Pat Summerall." Isn't he Pat Summerall for everybody? Or will he one day confess, "For John Madden, I'm Pat Summerall. For my granddaughter, Brittany, I'm Grampa Poopie. And for Mrs. Summerall, every other Thursday night, I'm Little Bo Peep."
2. Explicate the Principle of Verticality. This physical law of the NBA, evidently coined by Don King, seems to state that an offensive player who jumps straight into the air won't be called for a foul if he collides with a defender. If so, why doesn't Doug Collins simply say that? Is it because he would be violating TV's Postulate of Prolixity, which posits that the simplest acts should be made to sound ludicrously complex, thus rendering expert analysis indispensable? True or false bonus brainteaser: Old analysts never die, they just lose verticality.
3. What could possibly have served as the tiebreaker when ESPN, compiling a list of the 50 greatest athletes of the 20th century, decided that Secretariat (No. 35) was better than Mickey Mantle (No. 37)? Triple Crowns won? Performance at stud? Discuss.
4. Why do producers persist in papering over my screen with "supers," when they acknowledge the word is short for "superimpositions," which is precisely what they have become? Most baseball games can no longer be seen for the pitch count, pitch speed, bat speed, the chart showing which bases are occupied, score ticker, stock ticker, AFLAC Trivia Question, tornado warning, winning lotto numbers and station logo graphics that have, alas, given literal meaning to the phrase "blanket coverage." Why, pray tell, have TV executives turned my set into a 54-inch, 400-channel, high-definition, cherry-consoled, picture-in-picture-equipped radio?
5. Why don't network suits follow the lead of newspaper editors by periodically rotating the beats of their correspondents? At NBC, Bill Walton might benefit from announcing golf ("That's a terr-ible putt: Hale Irwin is a sad human being!"), while Bud Collins could slide over to NBA telecasts (" Latrell Sprewell, Commodore of the Cornrow, Archduke of Asphyxiation: Why the long face?").
6. What is meant by Revelation 9:32, which warns: "When hairless Goliaths bestride the Earth, whoa be unto thee who garner at their squared circle, to worship graven images"? Is this a reference, as biblical scholars now fear, to the apocalyptic popularity of professional wrestling?
7. If a size-12 shoe, traveling 35 miles an hour toward a TV that is 17 feet from the couch, leaves a hand one tenth of a second after ESPN Wimbledon analyst Luke Jensen says, "We're gonna have some fun here at the big W," how soon is that TV silenced?
8. Is it possible that on Sunday, at 2:04 a.m., Fox Sports Net rebroadcast something called the Victor Awards, which included professional athletes such as Penny Hardaway giving two-foot-tall gold trophies to other professional athletes, such as Karl Malone, all in the name of charity? ("The Victor Awards: To the spoiled belong the Victors!") Moreover, is it possible—remotely possible—that the following sentence was uttered that night: "Coming up, the Golfing Legend of the Century, and the comedy of Carrot Top!"? Finally, and this is the salient point, is it possible I was watching it?
Viewers with any information on any of the above are asked to call 1-800-GET-LIFE.