Thursday, February 26, 2009

Weekly Op-Ed: Commenting on Commentators

Seems fitting to talk about commentators this week. Two of U.S. Figure Skating's best known stars nabbed gigs this past week: Michelle Kwan with NBC and Mirai Nagasu with T.V. Fuji Japan.

But what makes a good figure skating commentator? Is it simply knowledge about the sport of figure skating? Is it experience with the sport, i.e. having been a competitor? Is it a pre requisite that the commentator must have won something big like an Olympics or Worlds to be a good commentator? I don't really know the answer to these questions...

I can tell you who my favorites are. As much as I've criticized him for his negativity, yelled at the screen when he hated on my favorite skaters' layback spin, and corrected him numerous times for calling a triple jump a double, my favorite is Dick Button. He certainly fits the bill as far as those questions go. He is very knowledgeable about the sport. He has competed. He's a two time Olympic Gold Medalist.

I can also tell you a commentator I'm not a fan of...Peter Carruthers. He two fits the bill but I think he's overly verbose in his commentary and rambles on and on and on. Then again, so to does Button?

Scratch my not knowing the answer...I think I do know. Familiarity. Dick Button has been there, commentating for so long, we have just become familiar with him. He's like that reliable pair of shoes that never goes out of style. He's part of the experience when we watch skating on television. NBC must have picked up on that...they left him off the broadcast team for Nationals (see terrible ratings) and now he's been brought back on for the World Championships. Coincidence?

I think we are seeing a generational shift in figure skating commentary. One generations skating icon (Button) is being transitioned to another (Hamilton) and NBC is even preparing for the future with the latest icon (Kwan)!

What about our new platforms for skating coverage? This season, Universal Sports (NBC affiliate) broadcast figure skating sans commentators. Ice Network's content usually is without commentators as well (save the occasional Kerrigan, Kwiatkowski, or that boring woman who tells the elements and what level they are). I have to admit, I actually like watching without the commentary. But sometimes I get lonely and miss Dick, Peggy, and Terry (hands down...the best skating trio ever. I so miss skating on ABC/ESPN).

I suspect we'll all have our favorites and those we don't care for. I have mine, I'm sure you have yours. Share in the comments who you like, dislike, and why.


Karen said...

The best commentators are like great translators - when they do their jobs right, they help the audience understand what's going on without getting in the way.

Think about it - when do you love Dick Button? When he's sharing his considerable knowledge and insight. When do you hate him? When he's expressing an opinion during a performance that's different from your own- it detracts from the experience.

Ice Charades said...

I'll never forget Dick Button referring to a skater (whose name I have forgotten) as a "second generation theatrical skater". I couldn't tell you if he was being condescending or creative (can you ever with Dick?), but somehow "son of show skaters" didn't cut it. All that said, I do think he's a good commentator.

I prefer Scott, because you can tell he's feeling what the skater is going through in their program and, like Dick Button, he knows his stuff too.

I bet Michelle will be good too, because she's articulate, already used to the camera and smart.

Anonymous said...

i prefer the commentators not make any comments during the performance. So distracting. Maybe call out the jumps. That's it. And they can make as many comments as they want during kiss and cry.

Anonymous said...

I like the commentators that know when to be quiet and let the skaters skate. Scott can be annoying at times. Too much screaming and at times 'over the top'. Dick was a bit annoying at times but he knew his stuff. Peggy Flemming is a lot like Paula Abdul. Too sweet. Too much information about who designed their dress etc... I do love watching ice skating.

salzburglar said...

this season has offered us an interesting experience... what many of us THOUGHT we wished for. that is, to watch skating events without commentary (ie: on ESPN). most of what i've seen this season has been this way (not nationals, of course). what i've realized is that a lot of vitality and perspective is lost. yes, i can predict/imagine what they would be saying, but more importantly, hearing stories of a skater's background, health/injury updates, and the like definitely richen the experience.

so, that being said, i MOST like or enjoy the following, in descending order of pref.:

1) susie wynne
2) sandra bezick
3) terry gannon
4) vern lundquist
5) paul wylie
6) dick button
7) scott hamilton

although i appreciate the tone and commitment of peggy fleming and tracy wilson's commentary, etc., they are not favorites.

i do not enjoy either the personality or commentary of: kurt Browning or Peter Carruthers. Their comments always feel ego driven.

dick button in my mind offers the most content and true commentary/criticism, which has been invaluable to the sport. that being said, he has become more grating in recent years.