Roller Derby Anyone?

There is something about mass popularity in full flower, especially in the realm of television, which seems almost indestructible. The reigning favorite will last forever, for who could take his place? How could we ever stop guessing who would be fired next from the Arthur Godfrey Show? The evening’s news would have a synthetic ring unless we saw it read in confident tones by John Cameron Swayze, with cigarette plugs fore and aft and two or three in the middle. Who is or was “Mr. Television”? Surely nothing might ever dim the radiance of the star who could crank out for himself a nickname like that.

If one tries to account for the fame of these people, one finds that reiteration, hammering it all home again for those who missed it the first time — or the third, or the thirtieth — was perhaps the major cause of their success. Sameness may be insufferable to some, but to many, the more familiar the fare the more reassuring it becomes.

At some point in its existence, popularity takes a turn downward. The cosy acceptance, nourished by familiarity and never in its sameness disappointing, is replaced by fatigue. Julius La Rosa’s next singing engagements somehow escaped page one; Swayze turned to something other than news; Mr. Television is active, one gathers, but not without competitors.

At this fall-winter season the apparently deathless and everlasting entertainment is provided by hired athletes, men who make a living by playing for television cameras the same game they formerly played for sport. It is unimaginable, as one of these seasonal “championships” goes into its final stages — as it did last year and the year before —• that its hypnotic hold on its audience could ever wane, but the question persists nonetheless: how much of the same old thing shall we insist on having? A few items:

Football: If passer and receiver continue to improve, whence will the surprises come? The perfectly thrown pass is perfectly received, and the stylized spectators in the stands break into a stylized form of what the announcer shrewdly describes as “pandemonium.” At appropriate intervals near-perfect misses occur, and what the announcer, shrewdly drawing on his lore of what is really an absurdly simple game, correctly infers to be “a punting situation” develops. The ball changes hands, and the passing is resumed, pandemoniums and all.

Tennis: Many beautiful strokes are shown, but we can’t quite see where they cause the ball to go. This is especially tiresome for viewers who enjoy playing and watching a tennis game.

Baseball: Whether it’s gum or tobacco they’re chewing, the batter and the pitcher are forever spitting all over the place.

Golf: Four players are seen to drive. The camera seeks to follow the ball through the air. Nothing at all happens to the ball while it is in the air. The four players are seen to hit their second shot — more ball-in-the-air camera tracking. The players eventually hole out. Tomorrow: more of the same, right from the bee-yoo-ti-ful course of the Nirvana (Ohio) Country Club, with its lightning-fast greens and treacherous traps, where genial Joe Doakes, the club pro, has been working night and day to accommodate the greatest gallery ever to turn out for a tournament in Nirvana. C’m over here, Joe, and say a few words, will ya?

Bowling: Contestant A rolls a strike. Contestant B rolls two strikes. Contestant A rolls two strikes, etc., etc. The only difference between them is that A believes in much body English and mugging, while B plays the great-stone-face bit. Their match is supposed to be part of a vast tournament, of which more next week, etc., etc.

Boxing: Who could possibly believe it or care two whoops?

Those mentioned above are perhaps the major television sports of the present and looking as if they would endure tor centuries. The same could have been said a few years ago of professional wrestling and the Roller Derby. . . .