Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March Madness & MTV

As March Madness kicks in this week, and MTV gets in on it with their own "Musical March Madness", I'm feeling a little nostalgic again and powering up the old wayback machine, back to when MTV teamed up with CBS to produce "MTV March Madness Uncensored", a show I had the pleasure of producing and directing, ably co-produced and co-written by Colby Hall (lately of Mediaite) and many many other talented people.

Later in the week, I'll post a few clips of the show, but for no, here's a review that appeared March 22, 2004, in the Washington Post, almost a year after the show first debuted.


The most interesting NCAA tournament overview on television this weekend wasn't on CBS, or NBC, or ABC, or Fox, or ESPN, or ESPN2, or ESPN Classic, or ESPN Deportes, or Telemundo, or Fox Sports World, or Speedvision, or the Golf Channel, or on any channel with any connection at all to the world of sports. (On second thought, perhaps NBC doesn't belong on that list.) No, the one show that captured every exciting aspect of the tournament in a easily digestible one- hour format was a show with a 2002 copyright date that aired on MTV2 at 2 a.m. Sunday. The same MTV2 that offered up "Sucka Free Sunday" as counterprogramming to Sunday's tournament action.
"March Madness Uncensored" (which airs again at 11 this morning) was remarkably thorough for a network whose only apparent connection to the NCAA tournament is the fact that both MTV and CBS are owned by Viacom. But that's an important connection, as it allowed MTV to pack "Uncensored" with clips from CBS's past coverage. It even had footage from when NBC had the tournament.
So it wasn't really up to date (the show ended with footage of College Park burning after Maryland won it all in 2002). So what? So it didn't have any highlights from this year's games. If you're having trouble finding said highlights, perhaps its time to learn how to use the remote control. So it considered the time when Temple Coach John Chaney went nuts and tried to go after then-Massachusetts coach John Calipari in 1994 as part of March Madness. So what if that encounter happened in February? It's MTV. At least they know about "madness."
Here's one thing the show got right: It made sure to mention Al McGuire, one of the truly great terrible broadcasters ever. McGuire's technical skills as a television announcer hovered somewhere between "Monday Night Football" sideline "reporter" Lisa Guerrero and the high school kids learning the ropes calling softball games on public access. He also had plenty of trouble with names.
"[Before games], Al would say, 'Give me three names, easy ones,' " CBS's Dick Enberg reminisced on "Uncensored." The result was Maguire saying, "Here's a pass over to the Alaskan man, Nanook of the North," when describing former Duke player Trajan Langdon. Despite his broadcasting shortcomings, he was a great fan of the game, and that's all that mattered to viewers.
"Uncensored" served to remind us how much McGuire's light touch is missed behind the mike in today's age of Billy Packer harrumphing everyone and everything on the court.
The show also took viewers behind the scenes of CBS's Selection Sunday show. The network has only about an hour from when it gets the brackets from the NCAA until the show airs, and things sometimes go wrong, like the time the fax from the NCAA showed up smudged.
There were other nice tidbits: Footage of then-George Washington coach Mike Jarvis celebrating when the Colonials received an at- large bid in 1993 and frowning when the team was left out in '95; Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski stiffly dancing to "Staying Alive" on the team bus after the Blue Devils won it all in 2001; Chris Webber's unfortunate timeout in the '93 title game, and footage of the Michigan bench that showed his teammates begging him to call it.
The NCAA tournament is a sprawling, chaotic affair, and there's just too much going on in the early rounds to get a handle on things, especially if you don't have the option of getting all the games on satellite. Who would have imagined that MTV, of all the networks, would package it so nicely?

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