The success of a telecast of a great sports spectacle depends on the brilliance of the event itself. CBS' coverage of Super Bowl XIV was lit up by the glistening quality of the game: the big plays, the back-and-forth surges of two heavyweight teams. The estimated 102 million viewers saw superb entertainment; the 21 sponsors, who shelled out at the rate of $468,000 per commercial minute, no doubt feel they got their money's worth; and CBS looked forward to numbers that would edge it past ABC in the ratings scramble.
At times the CBS production had an art-for-art's-sake tone. There were all those dramatic sideline shots from the ground up—solitary football players heroically outlined against the California sky with a blimp floating in the background; musicians and dancers similarly silhouetted during the halftime show; and later, Pittsburgh Coach Chuck Noll, amid a cluster of his behemoths, framed in the arclights and darkness.
It sometimes seemed that we were watching a football movie instead of a football telecast. Right from the beginning CBS reached back for a High Noon effect at the coin toss as a pair of hand-held cameras accompanied the captains onto the field and the picture cut back and forth between the opposing forces ominously advancing toward each other.
Credit it all to the influence of Movieland on a production crew that was bivouacked in Beverly Hills and had played its own intramural classic, Super Bowl XIII�, at Cheviot Park during the week. (The Reds beat the Blues 21-0.) Certainly, some weird influences were at work on Jack Whitaker during his opening for the pregame show when he belittled the Hollywood side of the Los Angeles megalopolis as a bunch of front-runners while extolling Pasadena as "certainly the most civilized city in California."
For all the dramatic camera work, the CBS crew, beaded by producer Bob Stenner and director Sandy Grossman, missed on a more basic aspect of big-game coverage: reaction shots. Brilliant technicians like Grossman have educated us to look for certain reactions as part of these 16-camera productions, and we now ask why when we don't see them, which was the case all too often Sunday.
When Los Angeles' Frank Corral missed an extra-point attempt, he surely must have reacted in an animated fashion. We did not, however, get a quick glimpse of him after the miss. Nor were there reaction shots of Corral and Pittsburgh's Matt Bahr after they kicked field goals. On none of Terry Bradshaw's three interceptions did we see an isolated replay of one of the NFL's most animated quarterbacks reacting to his misplay.
And the use of replays was less than first-rate. Frequently two replays were shown, but sometimes the second one came so close to the beginning of the next play that it momentarily confused the viewer, who did not know if a replay or live action was unfolding. But there was only one replay of the botched—and unorthodox—onside kick by Bahr after Pittsburgh's first score.
Also on Sunday, the CBS announcers dwelled too often on scenes that never appeared on the screen. Commenting on the opening sequence of the game, play-by-play man Pat Summerall noted that there were "extracurricular activities"—a euphemism for shoving or punching—up the field, but the camera left us uninformed. Analyst Tom Brookshier stated shortly thereafter that "there have been altercations on almost every play," but we did not get a look at any kind of unsportsmanlike activity. In addition, the purists who chart games were not always apprised of the yardline or down by Summerall.
As for Brookshier, he rambled on in his ever-chuckling, star-adoring way. Brookshier's almost unwavering pattern was this: stalwart makes good play; Brookshier says how good play was; Brookshier says what a great man stalwart is. When Pittsburgh's Jack Lambert made an ordinary tackle, Brookshier said, "He's quite an athlete." Upon Bradshaw's second long pass completion to John Stallworth, Brookshier reported that Bradshaw is a born-again Christian and that "I love him; I've always loved him."
For many viewers, love is not enough.