We are so information-obsessed these days that we now live in the preinformation age. That is, we get our news before we get our news. Sports highlight shows on ESPN, Fox Sports and CNN/SI all employ a ticker that crawls across the bottom of the screen, minute by irritating minute, telling viewers in abbreviated form what they are about to find out in a form that's abbreviated enough to begin with. The damned ticker flows undammed, 24/7, on sports news channels, and it won't be long before these channels reach the screen-obliterating absurdity of the Bloomberg Financial Network, on which information boxes and tickers leave little room for the traditional TV picture. That's fine on a business channel featuring nothing but talking heads, but it's not good on a sports highlight show.
Case in point: It's 8:01 a.m., and the opening clip of ESPN's SportsCenter shows Ray Allen coming off a screen with time running out and the Bucks down by one. Just as Allen goes up to shoot, the ticker—dubbed the Bottom Line—flashes by with the raw data that Milwaukee lost by one, thereby eliminating the drama that SportsCenter tries to create with its highlights. "Our research shows that viewers don't get distracted by the Bottom Line," says Norby Williamson, executive producer of SportsCenter.
Well, this viewer does, and to combat it I have employed two defenses, neither of which is ideal. The Arm Bar Method requires shielding the view by lifting the forearm to the level of the ticker, but that's enervating and perilous to execute while spooning Frosted Mini-Wheats into the mouth. The Marvin Gaye Method requires that four-CD box sets be lined along the bottom of the screen to cover the ticker—ain't that peculiar?—but alas, they rest too precariously on the edge of the TV table and often tumble to the floor.
Networks are outsmarting themselves with this creeping menace. By eight in the morning, any degenerate gambler, fantasy leaguer or agate-addict who had to know what the Bucks did the night before will have found out on the Internet or a post-midnight highlight show. There are still some hopelessly antiquated viewers for whom suspense and storytelling matter—and to whom the concept of scooping yourself doesn't make sense.