How does team commentating work?
February 21, 2018 2:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm watching Olympic figure skating with Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski, and Johnny Weir, and noticing that they never seem to talk over each other in their commentary. Do they just take turns? Do they have a producer telling them when to talk or little buttons that light up? How does this work? Thanks!
posted by Threeve to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There might be a more interesting answer for general sportscasting, but with the time delay from Korea I assume there's been editing.
posted by theweasel at 3:10 PM on February 21, 2018

I've pretty much been watching curling, and the CBC commentators seem to do things like have little roles, like one woman is the strategy expert, one guy bounces off of her comments and provides colour ("look, that's her dad in the stands looking nervous"), and one is the "stats dude" who probably always has his google open. That, and a sense of taking turns, and especially asking specific questions to someone else to give the other cues to be quiet seems key. I've watched a lot live online, so there couldn't be any editing involved.
posted by transient at 3:16 PM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

There is a producer in their ears, but in the case of Lipinski and Weir, I suspect some of it is just natural feel from being around each other.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:18 PM on February 21, 2018

I've done some multi-person commentary type projects for TV, and generally it's not overly planned who'll speak when.

There is a producer in their ears- I've been that producer. But generally I'd try to stay fairly quiet so I'm not distracting. Still, I might nudge the convo a little- for instance when Jimmy-the-guest is talking, I might choose that moment to pop in to Dale-the-host's earpiece and say to her, "don't forget to ask Sue about the skate blades!"

Generally in terms of traffic flow, the panellists will just make eye contact so everyone can tell who'll be speaking next, or give subtle physical cues when you want a turn (like inhaling, leaning forward, raising a hand excitedly, etc)- and others pick up on those signals and are quiet.

Also, often one commentator is the "leader" (like they're a network regular and the others are special-interest expert guests, or one is older or more seasoned than the rest), so that leader's body language kind of sets the tone, everyone defers to let them speak the most, and they use eye contact to help direct the flow of the convo and ensure the proportion of each person's contributions are fairly balanced (like if Jimmy is talking too much, they'll look at Sue as they ask the next question, thus gently cueing her to add more to the convo).

Commentators all know that speaking over each other makes for bad TV, so everyone on the panel is aware that they shouldn't do it, and tries not to- this also helps ensure that it doesn't happen too much.

And for intros, extros, and hard-to-improvise information (anything with dates, times, or URLs for instance), the hosts are often reading a teleprompter with assigned dialogue, just to help ensure that the tops and tails of each segment feel extra-polished.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:37 PM on February 21, 2018 [23 favorites]

In bike racing I've noticed that the main commentator will hand off to color commentators by name. "Blah blah really looks like they're struggling...Johnny?" Sometimes it's very subtle.
posted by rhizome at 3:53 PM on February 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

In baseball one, announcer is usually the "play-by-play" guy, and the other is the "color" guy. They might alternate between innings.
posted by tiburon at 7:20 PM on February 21, 2018

It is an absolute art, and one that sportscasters (generally) become very good at, very quickly. In many sports there are defined roles within the broadcast team (like play-by-play vs color) and there is - at the Olympics level certainly - a producer or producers in the talents' ears, but there are generally no strict rules or technical solutions to the problem. If you watch other sports, pay close attention when there are less-experienced broadcasters working. In these Olympics, for example, Bode Miller is working on the Alpine skiing broadcasts for, I believe, the first time. He is terrible at it for a number of reasons, but he also frequently attempts to talk over his partner.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:44 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ha, Rock Steady - Bode Miller's commentary on the Alpine skiing has been driving me crazy. He's terrible, and I didn't even hear the comment you linked to above (WTF.). It's actually been making me appreciate other sports commentators more, which is not something I usually do, so - silver lining I guess...
posted by widdershins at 10:46 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

He does talk too much, but I've been liking Bode's commentary. It's just bland and detailed enough, and I appreciate his near-montone. While the guys doing the Women's Cross-Country Skiing last night can be forgiven, sports commentators shouldn't have personalities.
posted by rhizome at 12:04 PM on February 22, 2018

Oh, rhizome, I beg to differ that sports commentators shouldn't have personalities! I grew up in Norway and our commentators have a long and glorious history of rooting for our athletes in any world event (watch the video in this recent NYT article for a great example), ESPECIALLY THE WINTER OLYMPICS, NORWEGIANS' MOMENT TO SHINE, and it makes watching the event so much more fun when the announcers are as invested in the outcome as you are. And it's not just us - did you see the Icelandic commentary on their amazing World Cup qualifying game? Soccer generally does this right, I think.

I was OF COURSE cheering like mad for the Norwegians in that Women's Cross-country Skiing Relay, but I was also very happy for the Americans and loved that the commentators got really into it. (It stung a bit that Sweden got silver, but at least we got bronze, and of course, Marit Bjørgen is now the most decorated winter Olympian OF ALL TIME, male or female, so I'm good with it.)
posted by widdershins at 8:08 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

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