BE FOREWARNED: Midway through this column we're going to leave our discussion of televised sports to bring you a review of...the slammin' new single from Elektra recording artist Missy Elliott! O.K., so the comparison using SI and one of its AOL Time Warner sister divisions is imperfect, but extraneous halftime gimmicks have characterized NBC's coverage of the NBA Finals. During Games 2 and 3 we saw a special edition of NBC's game show Weakest Link, featuring host Anne Robinson skewering the likes of NBC Sports personalities Bob Costas and Bill Walton. During Game 1 the network spent the mid-game break airing a live U2 concert, and during Games 4 and 5 viewers were scheduled to see musical groups Destiny's Child and Sugar Ray, respectively. Granted, none of the music had any connection to NBC—but it also had no connection to basketball.
Halftime entertainment shows are nothing new. Still, the Weakest Link segments were shameless tie-ins—why not just have a 10-minute edition of Friends in which Chandler learns the hook shot from his new buddy, Bill Walton?—and the move to music (an attempt to pander to the coveted 18-to-34 demographic) devalued the NBA on NBC Finals crew of Ahmad Rashad, P.J. Carlesimo, Steve Jones, Kevin Johnson and Walton.
Not that we missed them that much. Especially after viewers became accustomed to the wit and wisdom of Charles Barkley on TNT early in the playoffs, the drop-off to NBC's pregame and halftime team was precipitous. The broadcast was particularly weak during the pregame of Games 1 and 2, when NBC had the crew do a standup from courtside. The ambient noise at the Staples Center was so loud that the analysts were forced to shout-something none of us wants to see Carlesimo doing.
One obvious question is, Why didn't NBC hire Barkley to work the Finals? "Even if we'd wanted to, TNT wouldn't have let us," says NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol. So NBC stood pat. We can only hope halftimes during potential Games 6 and 7 don't feature Pop-A-Shot with Jay Leno.