Sunday, February 25, 2007

Long Beach: Which Marriott?

The Phoenix Sports crew had a group dinner tonight at California Pizza Kitchen in Long Beach. Naturally, the place was filled with biking people. Fred's friend Vincent, who is a mechanic for Discovery, came by the table and told us Hincapie fractured his wrist today. Instead of starting the crit tomorrow to protect Leipheimer's lead, Hincapie is going into surgery.

It was my turn to fuck up today. But I had some help.

All the American networks have a graphic "look", i.e. fonts and shells for their graphics which identify the network just in the way the graphics look. It is an extremely pretentious, extremely stupid, extremely wasteful, and uniquely American affectation. No other country in the world does it, and it's a waste of time and effort.

Versus (formerly OLN), which is televising the Tour of California, is no exception. They have a "look", and it is without a doubt one of the ugliest, most cluttered, schizophrenic, and dysfunctional graphic "looks" I've ever seen. It truly blows. But I'm sure there's some highly paid executive at Versus, with a shaved head, a goatee, an earring, and a $2500 Hugo Boss suit, who proudly claims credit for designing it.

The Versus "look" sometimes has as many as 4 different fonts on the same page. The athletes' first names and last names are in a different font, for example, which is dumb. And the graphics are way too big. If Jackson Pollack had gone into TV, he would have liked the Versus look.

Typically, for an event like this, a network would send me their shells a month or two in advance and make one of their design people available by phone for any questions. This is particularly true for timing graphics, as networks almost never have anything in their style guide for a sport-specific clock layout with time-to-beat, and so forth.

Well, the fuckwads at Versus sent me their shells & fonts - literally - the afternoon before the race started, and half the stuff wasn't even complete. Some intern at Versus got on the phone with me and apologized as she headed for the airport to start her weekend, and wished me luck. Gee, thanks.

Normally, I would have all the graphics software tested, approved, and burned to CD before I left home. But a week ago, there I was in the parking lot of the Rennaissance Hotel in Burlingame, holed up in a motor home, trying to make all the clock and standings graphics fit the Versus style guide for a race starting in about 12 hours.

Turns out one of the clueless knuckleheads at Versus complained to the producer, John Carter, that my graphics didn't fit their "look" closely enough. Carter told them something like "gee, for all the guidance you gave him, you're lucky it's even close". So today in Santa Clarita, I had to re-write all the software. Again. It was purely a cosmetic thing, but I had to make a few database changes so that I could render the athletes' first names and last names in separate routines SINCE THEY USE A DIFFERENT FONT. Aaaargh.

Well, the new software worked great all day, and when the race was over, I had the stage results up there off my photo-finish interface almost instantly. I was feeling pretty good. Then Carter called for me to change the page on the standings, and page 2 was blank.

Aw, fuck.

They had to re-do the whole segment, not only because of my fuck-up, but also because of a bunch of other fuckups with the RF, the helicopters, the cameramen, and who the f$%^& knows what else and who else. There was so much screaming going on in the truck, I couldn't make out most of what was happening.

I kinda feel sorry for Carter this week. I don't think the guy has produced many bike races OTHER than Le Tour de France, which is a big problem, because he's accustomed to a multi-million-dollar media machine dumping huge buckets of information on his head in real time all day long. At this race, the budget for remote cameras, aircraft, GPS, and scoring & timing is about 90% less. It's like a surgeon who was trained at Harvard Medical School who then gets assigned to a M*A*S*H unit in Korea. Hey, that sounds like it could be an interesting TV show.


Anyway, so everyone in the TV truck got screamed at today, including me. Especially me. I screwed up. Then again, I never should have been forced to do a major software re-write an hour before a show. That certainly didn't help, so a resounding "fuck you" to Versus Network, but ultimately it was my bad, end of story.

Tomorrow should be amusing. Stage 7 is, in essence, a big criterium on a 7 mile course. I wonder if Carter has ever produced a crit show. I doubt it. Carter is struggling with the transition to this lesser level of technical television. Perhaps AEG should have gotten a Director with more experience in making TV the "old fashioned" way, i.e. digging the story out of cracks in the woodwork. For example, his P.A. (whom we call "The Slipper Girl") is a cute young thing who fetches him a latte on command, but she's never seen a bike race before. He would have been way better off hiring a girl with a big, muscular bike-racing ass, who happened to be a former hard-core bike racer. She could go beat up the Commissaires for information, dig for tidbits behind the scenes, and figure still more out on her own, out of experience and instinct, rather than disappearing periodically to brush her hair and re-apply her makeup. But no, he wanted Slipper Girl, ostensibly because she looks good in tight jeans.

At this race, there are two remarkable books issued to every race support person: The Technical Guide and the Housing Guide. The Technical Guide describes every stage down to the smallest detail. For example, if you're a tent guy, the technical guide tells you the exact position and layout of the finish line in every city, down to the inch, so you can get to the site, figure out where your tents go, and get started putting them up without having to ask anybody. The caterers can look at the Technical Guide and know where to park their truck, where all the trucks, motorhomes, and tents which require catering are located, and how much catered food they require. The Housing Guide is issued to all 880 people associated with the race. It has directions and rosters for all housing in all cities. There is a woman named Elaine who has done a remarkable job with those guides, They are full-color, high-gloss magazine stock. They are works of art.

Unfortunately, Elaine fucked up today too. My housing group (#30) was listed as staying at the Courtyard Marriott at 5855 West Century, near LAX, for tomorrow's Long Beach Stage. I put the address into my GPS, and we skedaddled out of Santa Clarita. When we arrived at that address, we found it was a Marriott, not a Courtyard Marriott, and they didn't have our rez. So we hopped back in the motorhome and drove a few blocks to the Courtyard Marriott at a different address on West Century. They didn't have our rez either. We called Elaine. She said a page from last year's Housing Guide had mistakenly appeared in the 2007 Guide, hence the mistake. She had assigned someone to tell everyone, but we were never notified. She said we were staying at the hotel for one of the Start Groups, which is a Courtyard Marriott at the Long Beach Airport.

Turns out that wasn't right either. We spotted some of the support trucks at a Courtyard Marriott in Long Beach, about 2 blocks from the race course. THAT's the right hotel. So here I sit, sucking free bandwidth.

Elaine, I don't know you, I'll probably never meet you, but I think your Housing Guide is a work of art - despite today's trevails.

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