Sunday, October 07, 2007

Gingerbread Gone Bad

In the mid-1970’s the neighbors needed a replacement for their pale yellow Ford Fairlane and purchased a two door base model Ford Fairmont. Back then base was the ultimate stripper with minimal wheel covers, vinyl seat covers, no A/C. The only options on this car were an automatic transmission and an AM radio. The Fairmont could be dressed up fitting into a wide variety of buyers needs with a different grill, fake wood on the wagon and even the almost sporty/sexy looking Futura. But it was still the same underneath, a good but not outstanding car. The late model Kia sedans might be the best modern equivalent which are all but invisible on the road.

Then in 1981 Ford married the Fairmont and the legendary Thunderbird nameplate. But the basic Fairmont would not do and the budget would not allow expensive new sheet metal so the solution was to hang decorations on the car. Sometimes referred to as “gingerbread,” the automotive version of the prosthetics used by actors and as the picture below shows the effect was an ugly ungainly near monster or the “What were they thinking?” A car only a bean-counter could love. Lack the commitment of sufficient work and resources Ford just dressed it and hoped it would sell.

ESPN is doing the same with the coverage of college football. At the core is a good product with many times great and genuine reality TV (rather than the pasted together stuff). The drama of a competitive game is as gripping and as any entertainment on the planet. Bristol, however, lacks confidence in the basic product so they add features to the game to keep you from changing the channel. Notice that these features are often scheduled in the second half and at times take priority over the actual game. Depending on the situation various visitors are in the booth, on the phone or on the sidelines. These are the television version of having a padded vinyl roof as they add nothing of real value to the product.

Although the source eludes me, it once reported that the average viewer of a college football game tunes in for 20 or 30 minutes. This means that ESPN is looking for ways to increase the “grazing” viewer tune in time if only by 5 or 10 minutes by having a three ring circus with the scores at the bottom of the screen, Erin interviewing Ray Lewis, and the game. Add to this the booth talent weaving in, sometimes clumsily, stories about the players. Notive that they will repeat these stories during the game and recycle them for the next game as they assume you are watching with passion for one of the teams or are changing the channel soon and not really paying attention.

Funny thing about the addition of the “gingerbread” to the Thunderbird, not only did it looking silly coming off the production line it looked sad several years later as the over dressed look went out of fashion and pathetic when the plastic add-ons fall off.

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