Saturday, June 5, 2010

THANK YOU, DR. BAILLY: Due to work stuff and some other issues, I wasn't able to be as involved in the Bee coverage this year as I'd like to have been, and only got around to watching last night's ABC coverage today. Seems like there's general agreement around here that this year's coverage didn't work, but I wanted to talk a little more about why:
  • Host--I don't watch Dancing with Semi-Famous People, but, by all accounts, Tom Bergeron is among the best in the business at keeping things moving along while still being a pro, and his prior hosting of the Bee has been quite good. Chris Harrison, on the other hand, is not. Understandably, they want a face from one of their shows to serve as a host, but couldn't they have done better? (OK, looking at their schedule, maybe not.) I don't mind Erin Andrews in the Kiss and Cry space, as she's a decent interpersonal presence and fine with human interest stuff (not to mention nice to look at), but she should be paired with someone with a little more background in the Bee.
  • Scheduling--A staple of the recent coverage has been the pre-cut clip packages for major spellers. Because of how this year's Bee wound up working out (the relatively lack of people making return trips to the finals, that some favorites went down early), they didn't have pre-cut packages for many of the finalists. Also contributing to the problem is that unlike most sporting events, it's very hard to guess how long the Bee may run (witness the Wipeout filler), and hard to say whether a round is hard or easy, at least once they're off the main word list. Perhaps what they should consider is shifting the Bee schedule a bit, with them completing preliminaries, and then proceeding on Friday till they have completed a round with 20 or fewer left standing. Then, Sunday, starting at 7 EST, we go live on ABC til we have a winner. That lets the spellers rest a little more, which would be well-deserved, and give ABC an extra day to do packages/interviews with any finalists they hadn't done previously.
  • Production Values--I admire that they're shooting it in HD and giving it full ESPN treatment, and I appreciate that they aren't putting correct spellings up immediately after Dr. Bailly reads, but giving viewers a chance to play along. However, there's too much split-screening, however, especially on the parents of the finalists--just because you can use a split screen doesn't mean you should. I also don't mind a little gussying-up for TV, but did we need a not-terribly-funny bit from Ferrell and Wahlberg, or the announcers promoing Wipeout, which might be the antithesis of the Bee? (And let us not talk about the bizarro "Do I Have To Spell It Out" musical montage.)
  • Setup--At least for the conclusion of the first round, Kiss and Cry was on the stage, which just seems wrong. These are young children, and they should be entitled to a little more privacy after the bell rings, which I'm sure is a very crushing moment. (Though credit to ABC for not forcing folks back to talk to Erin unless they were willing to do so and giving competitors a moment of personal time.)
The Bee is far from broken, but some tweaks to balance the desires of television with the unique nature of the Bee may be required. Also, as Adam mentioned, there are 51 other weeks during the year besides Bee Week--stick around.


  1. Tim Sanders4:20 PM

    While I appreciate your thoughts some of them are not grounded in reality with regards to how network television works.  First is starting the Spelling Bee at 7 EST.  ABC does not have the right to air networking programing from 7-8 on the weekdays, their local affiliates do.  Way back when the networks did program the 7:30-8 hour, but the government made them give this time slot back to the affiliates (the FCC's Prime Time Access Rule in 1970).  While this rule was appealed in 1996, by then the affiliates had been already contractually given back that time in the Network Affiliate Agreements.  Essentially if ABC wants to air something during the 7-8 hour, they have to monetarily compensate their affiliates, and the amount would be a lot, not a little.  Plus many Central time zone affiliates air news at 6 which is the major money maker for their affiliates.  So short story not going to happen.

    So couldn't they start at 8 and keep going until its over?  Maybe, they would have a hard stop at 11 pm EST but its still not likely.  Why?  Because the ratings for the Spelling Bee really are not that great.  Last night the Bee averaged 3.81 million viewers and a 0.9 18-49 adults rating (it's the 0.9 18-49 rating that networks and ad buyers base their rates on).  So to be the bearer of bad news but even during the summer a 0.9 rating is very bad.  Don't believe me?  Believe Marc Berman who reports on television for the trade magazine Mediaweek.  He rated every program (including the Bee) as a ratings loser last night (  In fact 20/20 (which aired after the Bee) was 33% higher in the ratings.  I would not hold my breath waiting for ABC to replace 20/20 for another hour of a lower ranked and expensive program (live tv is expensive to produce).

    Finally stop deriding programs like Wipeout.  It's fine not to like the program but stop the "it's beneath us" attitude.  Like it or not, Wipeout is among the highest rated summer programs on ABC, of course it is going to promote that program.  Most of those 3.81 million viewers are casual watchers who are interested in watching Wipeout.

    Just some thoughts from a different perspective.

  2. With respect to the 7 PM slot, that's why I suggested moving it to Sunday, when networks still have that hour bound to affiliates (60 Minutes, America's Funniest Videos, etc.).

    And I certainly get that Wipeout is a successful program--I just question the compatability and the overkill promotion for it (seriously, at one point there was like a 1/3 screen banner).

  3. Linda5:33 PM

    Does the bee have to be on ABC?  I'd like to see it stay on ESPN through the championship round.  Lose the pressure to justify a network primetime spot and let the spelling take centerstage.   The primetime coverage really frustrated me.   Having the kids sit on stage waiting for ABC to air its commercials or promos or "clever" bits made them feel like props in a show about spelling instead of competitors.

  4. David5:39 PM

    <span>This Bee was shorter than most boxing matches in number of rounds, lol. I think I'll probably suggest to Scripps that if there are 20 or fewer spellers at the end of a round, they send them to primetime. In 2008 there were 16 in primetime, and all 19 could have easily fit into primetime this year.</span>

  5. I thought Chris Harrison was much more successful than Erin Andrews, who just came off as cloying. Also, apparently they BOTH mispronounced Anamika's name. 

  6. The delay until Sunday won't work -- the remaining contestants don't need the pressure of 48h of final cramming, and it's a huge financial burden on the sponsors of all the kids to pay to keep them in DC an extra 2-3 days until it ends.

    I go back to these questions; (1) were the R6 words too hard? (and if so, why?)  (2) Where were the 4+ timers this year?  Just a demographic blip?

  7. Uncle Spike7:15 PM

    1) I don't think the R6 words were all that least, not harder than I'd expect. I think it was just how the chips fell.
    2) It is a bit surprising that there was only one 4-timer this year. There's usually more than a few of 'em. I remember when Kenneth Larson was the first 4-timer in NSB history back in 1987 (and got 2nd place in 1986). He really was a big deal back then...until he was eliminated RIGHT after me. (I remember seeing him enter the comfort room, and I immediately said, "YOU were eliminated?" Probably not exactly what he wanted to hear at that time.)

  8. Ritab7:17 PM

    I agree with Linda above and I echo the question on network coverage. I have no reason to disbelieve Tim above on the ratings, nor do I have a reason to believe there will ever be an uptick.  Given that, and that I think the hardcore viewers are the ones that seek this show out (and very few others bother to watch), why not go to another channel that can provide better coverage without the ratings pressure that ABC has? I thought last night's coverage was horrible.  I also hated that some of these kids got hurt in the round prior to primetime because the bee was accomodating primetime rather than the kids.  Why not just take the national network primetime pressure out of the equation.  I'm not sure who loses.

    P.S.  Small voice---Wipeout makes me giggle.  There must be room in this world for both shows.

  9. codeman389:51 PM

    In her little clip package, she introduced herself as an-a-MI-ka. I really have no idea who's right anymore!

  10. codeman389:52 PM

    <span>...Actually, y'know, that gives me an idea. John Henson for spelling bee commentator. That would be awesome-- it'd be like Cheap Seats, but during the bee! :-p</span>

  11. I thought this guy was an improvement over Tom Bergeron in that he was nondescript while Bergeron is terribly annoying.  Also, anything that keeps the network eating away time from spelling with prefilmed bits is good with me.  I want to see the spelling.  If they finish early, they finish early.  Why drag it out?

    They do need some balloons or something to drop on the winner.

  12. calliekl12:52 AM

    I got sucked into Wipeout after the Bee. Sometimes, it's just funny to watch people fall down, especially people who are competing for a $50k prize.

  13. <span><span><span><span>A final piece of awful trivia about this year's Bee: there were only 19 words given during the ABC broadcast! In previous years' ABC broadcasts, there were 56 words in 2009, 52 in 2008, 34 in 2007 (the other year we didn't like much, but its ABC broadcast still had almost twice as many words as this year's), and 52 in 2006.</span></span></span> 
    Yeah, it was that bad this year.</span>