Accent on Living

VIDEO tape is really much better than live TV. It speeds everything up; never a dull moment. If a joke falls flat, go back and can it and put in a better one. No harm in adding some heartier laughter, while we’re about it. “Parts of this program were prerecorded on video tape,” says the announcer triumphantly. He doesn’t say which parts, but we happen to know that one of the earlymorning interviews we have just been following actually took place one afternoon week before last. One gets the impression that TV people are still a bit diffident about owning up to tape. Only recently they would manage a kind of muttering version of “By transcription” or “Parts of this program were transscribed,” but now they speak right up about it, clearly, in affirmative tones.

Television has learned how to boil down sports events to a point of eliminating those tedious intervals where nothing much is happening. “They halved the fourteenth and fifteenth, and we now pick them up all even, teeing off on number sixteen,” comes the awe-struck, whispering voice of the announcer, “here at the beautiful Nirvana Heights Country Club,” etc. Golf, by this method, is a succession of holed-out approaches, birdies, and unimaginable recoveries. If Doakes seems to be in real trouble, just watch him lip the cup with this sixty-footer!

Edited football ran throughout the winter on a one-hour basis, simply by cutting out most of the smallyardage plays. “Neither side was able to threaten during the rest of the quarter,” the announcer explains, “in an exchange of punts and a series of plays that failed to gain ground.” So, rejoining the action once again, we are rewarded by slam-bang bucking, running, and passing and a high-scoring second quarter that puts the Wingding Panthers out in front 21 to 6. That “6” instead of a “7” gives the announcer a chance to explain how all-important a single point can become, for Wingding’s opponents, under such circumstances in professional football, usually show a complete reversal of form in the second half and either win the game or come within a whisker of doing so. Regardless of the outcome, it’s the showy stuff, the pivotal plays that TV preserves for us, from all sorts of games, in edited sports. The unfunny gag is out, and so are those parts of interviews, baseball games, and panel discussions that don’t pay off.

The lessons here, for the political conventions this summer, are obvious: get started right away on prerecording them on video tape while there is still time for editing and retakes. A show lasting perhaps ninety minutes would be the idea, a Presidential Spectacular — actionpacked, sparkling, thrill-jammed political horse trading and logrolling.

Prerecording can show all the delegates as relatively interesting, even attractive, human beings, reasonably well behaved. I still recall the two platform occupants of 1952 shown on a live program, one of whom, during the opening prayer of the session, produced a nail file and busied himself with it, while the other, head reverently bowed, was seen to be lighting a big cigar. Others were disclosed to the TV audience, as the camera shopped about the hall, in various acts of social undress, hard at it with toothpicks, or scratching themselves, or, more often, sleeping quietly in their chairs.

The ninety-minute Presidential Spectacular will omit a great deal more, naturally, than small lapses of deportment. Whole platoons of senators will be combined and paraphrased in a sentence or two, although each party will preserve one or two for comic relief—Dirksen and Mundt, for instance, and Kefauver and Talmadge. The first verse of the national anthem will be sung by Connie Francis or Elvis Presley (fifty-five seconds, including ten seconds of applause). Dozens of native sons will blush unseen and unheard, and so, alas, will those who put them in nomination.

“The next five hours,” the announcer will say, as he disposes of them in a few seconds, “yielded nothing of network caliber. So, after a brief word from our sponsors, we shall return to the convention floor and show you how the delegates received Bob Hope’s hilarious story, ‘Days and Nights in the Smoke-filled Room.’ I think you’ll agree with me that they loved it!”

Those interminable roll calls will be briskly capsuled. Snake dances, victory marches, and spontaneous ovations may be held only by written permission of the sponsor and in no case for more than thirty seconds per candidate. Even so, an hour and a half is quite a long show. With capable trimming, it ought to be possible to wrap it all up in one hour flat.