If you’ve been waiting for recenly ensconced ESPN.com ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer to show the sort of teeth typified by his predecessors, get a load of this ; “those who thought ESPN could agree to televise live LeBron James’ announcement that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat — ultimately served up with ample hype in the form of an awkward, uncomfortable, staged one-hour network special — and still be free from public controversy, it might as well have been called ‘The Delusion.'” Not a big Vitamin Water drinker, eh, Don?
If the interviewee also brings along his own interviewer, you cannot protect the integrity of the broadcast. According to ESPN, the understanding with Gray was that he would ask James “a few questions” before LeBron announced his destination. That “few” turned into 16 questions. And on a live telecast, when an announcer who doesn’t work for your network gets to questions 7, 8, 9, 10 ¦ well, there’s nothing the producers can do. They can’t kill his microphone; they can’t come out and pull him out of his chair; they can’t even fire him because he’s not in their employ. ESPN’s producers were stuck, and, at the key moment of the telecast, the program was out of their control.
Editorial control also covers the length of a program. “The Decision” was much longer than it needed to be. But both Team LeBron and ESPN wanted a spectacle, not just news. James’ announcement could have been accomplished adequately in less than five minutes, and a 20-minute follow-up interview could have exhausted the news value and informed the audience of the subtleties and consequences of the decision.
But if you let the subject sell an hour’s worth of inventory, then the program needs to be an hour — and that’s an editorial acquiescence, not an editorial decision.