Monday, October 19, 2009

NFL Red Zone Is Sweet Freedom

I broke down and bought the NFL Red Zone channel. Call it premature or a lack of perspective if you want, but I believe this might be the greatest thing I've ever done. I like football. Football is awesome. It's 60 minutes of awesome. But, as you may have noticed, every football broadcast is at least 180 minutes. These others are not good minutes.

The NFL Red Zone channel essentially concedes that those 120 extra minutes are trash, and that even some of the 60 awesome minutes are not so great. You're paying $50 to not watch football as it is traditionally broadcast. It's a bold move for the NFL: their business model is, essentially, "We acknowledge that two-thirds of what we show you is flawed, interruptive, unappealing and dull, before and after the one-third you actually enjoy. We recognize these flaws are severe enough that you will pay to avoid them."

Here's the deal: for $50 per season, you get one channel and one HD channel that, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. airs commercial-free football from every game. No blackouts, no mandatory games crowding out other broadcasts. No filler. No booth reviews. No sideline interviews. Essentially no commentators (more on this later). No dead air. For seven hours, a single host, Scott Hanson, does no-frills voiceover transitions, devoid of any attempt to foist his "personality" on the programming, as the feed cuts into any game where a turnover just happened, a team just scored or a team is about to score. It's seven straight hours of everything you like about football and nothing you hate. Unless you're deeply invested in a particular team or game, there's no reason to watch football any other way anymore.

And why should you? Every Sunday, there are only four games you can potentially see, and often there are only three, as the NFL decides that one half of a channel's doubleheader programming has to be blocked out so you can be forced to watch only your local team — whether it's shitty, or the opponent's shitty, or both. The regional programming schedules are nebulous and questionable to the point of absurdity. For instance, on any given Sunday in the south, instead of watching a premiere matchup between two good teams from somewhere else, viewers will be obliged to watch a team from New York — "Because New Yorkers retire in the south, right???" — or maybe the Dallas Cowboys, presumably because, "Dallas is only 1,500 miles away, but it's the south, right???"

Even if you want to watch the games, there are so many things a fan can do without. I watched three hours of uninterrupted football today before I realized:
I had not seen one car ad.

I had not seen a bunch of fiftysomething dudes in a suburban-garage jam band playing a bluegrass tribute to their being able to take a pill for dick problems.

My "ads for anything having to do with David Caruso or reality TV" count stood at zero.

At no point did we ever throw it back to the studio so one trained broadcast professional could sit silently while four ex-jocks or ex-coaches stumbled mush-mouthedly through 15 seconds of recap, told shitty jokes, high-fived and devolved into incomprehensible self-congratulatory laughter.

Even though I watched broadcasts with play by play and commentary from dozens of CBS and FOX on-air personalities, I never had to sit through two minutes of inaction while they tried to fill air time by explaining to me that someone was a "good football player" because he has "speed" and "quickness" and is just "an athlete" with "great athleticism."

Despite having to hear all those guys, I only heard them during exciting plays, which meant the game took center stage, and their conversation took a backseat to what was happening on-field. It's like they weren't even there.

I didn't see a sideline interview.

I didn't have to experience touchdown + extra point + commercial + kickoff + commercial + 1st down. Someone scored, then we went to another game.

The CBS bumper music didn't get burned into my brain.

The FOX bumper music that sounds like the "Giddyup giddyup giddyup let's go..." part of the Christmas carol "Sleigh Ride" didn't get stuck in my head (no, really, listen to the carol and then the NFL theme), leaving me singing Christmas carols for the rest of the night and bumming The Wife out because it isn't Christmastime yet.

I hadn't once had to wince and avert my eyes from gruesome close-up slo-mo replays of someone's knee snapping like a buffalo wing.

Nobody'd tried to provoke some reaction from me over a manufactured controversy.

Nothing made me want to punch someone.

I really had to pee.
That last one actually provoked all the other realizations. I finally got up and went to the bathroom as soon as it occurred to me that there weren't any commercials. At that point, it struck me that I'd been watching three straight hours of uninterrupted sport. No ads, no delays. It felt great! The realization and the peeing.

Now, I'm not on the NFL Red Zone Street Team, but it really only took me about 20 minutes before I decided I'd get this again next year. Too frequently, the worst part of Sunday was clicking over to Football Night in America and catching a dozen games that I didn't get to see and that were all unquestionably better and more interesting than the two I'd just sat through for six hours. Even the luxury of waiting until the game was in the fourth quarter and then watching it on DVR while blasting through the commercials only cut down on so much time, and it didn't change whether the game was bad. Besides, the temptation to just check the final score to see if going through the DVR was even worth it was too great.

Maybe other people won't be so easily converted: having teams that are consistently not-shitty certainly removes the incentive to get around local programming rules that put your team's games first before any other broadcast. And there's always the argument that a true fan watches the games as intended. Of course, a true fan might also have DirecTV and a willingness to spend $250 to get all the games and thus has the luxury of choosing which games to "suffer" through.

Regardless, intentionally suffering is stupid. It's one thing as part of a sacrifice for a greater ideal, nobly accepting punishment as a means to improvement, but we're talking about fucking football. It's recreation. Recreationally suffering is completely asinine. Anyone who tells you you're not a true football fan because you'd rather watch the best parts of every game instead of every part of one (potentially horrible) game is an idiot. People only try to apply this sort of backward logic to sports, probably because its application anywhere else instantly exposes how silly it is. None of these people would seriously believe that they can have a nobler and fuller experience of Anna Karenina by punching themselves in the dick while reading it, but somehow they think watching shitty teams play shitty football in an attempt to ward off competence or victory makes them heroes to humanity.

Fuck these people. And while you're at it, fuck Joe Buck and Thom Brenneman and the always-on-the-verge-of-hysteria Dan Dierdorf. Fuck Troy Aikman for three hours of sucking the cock of the Dallas Cowboys' franchise. Fuck walking around your house for the rest of the night hearing, "I'M A FORD TRUCK MAN/THAT'S ALL I DRIIII-IIIIIIVE!" reverberating through your head. Fuck John Cougar Mellencamp, fuck Toby Keith, and fuck "THIS IS ARRRE CUNTRY." Fuck Viagra. Fuck watching Kiefer Sutherland torturing the same poor dumb arab in 12 commercial bumpers in three hours. Fuck telling me about your penis. Fuck Survivor, Zocor, Lipitor and the Apple Store.

Fuck Lowe's. Let's destroy broadcast television together.