' ' Cinema Romantico: Ray of Light

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Ray of Light

Earlier in the Pandemic, maybe in April, perhaps May, possibly June, who knows, time is irrelevant now, My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife and I found an episode of “Murder, She Wrote” showing on one of those weird channels with commercials for things like a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark for $49.99. “Murder,” I said in faux-deep baritone while taking a long pause, “she wrote.” My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife just looked at me with great concern. I explained that’s how Pat Summerall, the old CBS NFL play-by-play man, would read the “Murder, She Wrote” ads since it always followed “60 Minutes” which always followed pro football on CBS Sundays. Unlike, say, Christopher Walken, who once said his first task with any screenplay he received was to remove all his character’s punctuation, Summerall honored punctuation to a tee. It wasn’t “MurderSheWrote”, all the words inelegantly piled on top of one another, it was “Murder-“ dramatic pause “-She Wrote.”

There are many lost arts but this is one: sports broadcasters reading ads. Do they even read ads anymore? They must, if not like they once did when broadcast TV was paramount. With so many college football games on ESPN, I suppose, the only relevant ads, really, are for, like, SportsCenter and SportsCenter doesn’t leave as much room for flourish, frankly, as “Murder, She Wrote.” Not that I can hear Chris Fowler, or even Joe Tessitore, emphasizing that comma with similar Summerall-ian flair; reading ads is just a job requirement. 

It was not, however, just Summerall who read ads. I’ve been re-watching old Nebraska football games via YouTube in lieu of my beloved Cornhuskers playing new games so far this season. One game I watched was their 1987 wild-assed affair with Arizona State. Midway through, Keith Jackson, the signature voice of college football, was tasked with reading an ad. This ad:

Like Summerall, Jackson, when confronted with these obligatory ad reads, could not help but embellish. But where Summerall was succinct and monotone, so much so that you were not sure if he was even in on his own proper punctuation joke or if he was just reading it the way it was written, Jackson was folksy, alive to the absurdity.  

The above he read began this way: “Tonight a blonde bombshell finds true love on ‘Once a Hero.’” [Beat.] “That’s what it says here.”

At that moment you can practically see the incredulous look on Jackson’s face, as if the spotter to his right and the statistician to his left were snickering and he’s communicating, hey, this ad isn’t my idea. He continues:
“Then Daryl Hannah, Tom Hanks, and John Candy are involved in the biggest fish story in history.”

If initially he poked fun at the proceedings, here he gives that “biggest fish story in history” all he’s got, treating Ron Howard’s 1984 romantic comedy with as much reverence as he might, say, Eddie Robinson, (at that time) the winningest college football coach in history. I kept wondering what Jackson might have sounded like reading other movie ads. “They shouldn’t have put him in the water,” you can hear Jackson saying of the ABC Saturday Night Movie Special “Striking Distance,” “if they didn’t want him to make waves.” 

Summerall, on the other hand, would have been aces with “Signs.” “Then, after ‘60 Minutes’, M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Signs.’” [Dramatic pause.] “It’s happening.” 

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