In terms of television, I have always found myself way behind the times.
The last series program I watched regularly while it was broadcast was Hill Street Blues. I do not recall watching any other program at the time. I lived in West L.A., and I knew some members of the cast of that show, not an unusual situation. Before that, I’d have to go back to Mary Tyler Moore and M.A.S.H.
Nowadays, true, I watch a lot of TV. (I’ve gotten into one of my non-reading funks again.) Modern cable micro-programming has enabled me to watch almost nothing but golf. Does regular viewing of Golf Talk Live count as series television?
Network promotions during commercial intervals keep me up with what mainstream TV has to offer. A Digital Video Recorder has let me and my wife sample this and that, if we should feel like it. (We have lately been catching up with episodes of The West Wing; shows you how far behind we are.) I was successfully tempted to watch an episode of the then-new Desperate Housewives, and found it clever enough, though I never watched again.
Such promos have kept me well aware of the trend toward “reality” TV, shows like Survivor and The Great Race. They really do look awful.
UNFORTUNTELY, IN THIS OFF-SEASON FROM REGULAR GOLF, I have been captured by one of The Golf Channel’s reality TV offerings, The Big Break, specifically Big Break VI: Trump National. The Golf Channel itself, it must be said, has enthusiastically embraced trash TV. Back when it started, TGC was a purist’s dream. Instruction, highlights, occasional tournaments the networks didn’t carry, old golf shows recycled, and long, long interviews.
From the standpoint of oral history alone, it was priceless. Luckily for TGC, in its early days, Paul Runyon, Gene Sarazen, and Sam Snead were still alive, and were willing to talk. Even more luckily, those guys could remember everything.
It has been sad watching the inevitable corruption. They’ve got a sports talk shout show, The Grey Goose Nineteenth Hole. There’s The Natalie Gulbis Show, starring the post-teen LPGA babe of the same name in rapid jump-cut sequences showing her shopping, meeting celebrities, and taking off her clothes. The Daly Planet, where cameras follow John Daly around, amounts to much the same thing, except that Daly keeps his clothes on. Peter Jacobsen had a show for a while.
But The Big Break has become TGC’s signature show. New hour-long shows are aired at 9:00 EST Tuesdays, following a repeat of the previous episode. Then they show episodes again, forever. Some nights there is nothing on TGC but BB.
One of its “challenges” has become a TV icon: breaking the window. Everybody wants to break the window. Even Tiger Woods, in a show called PGA Grand Slam Clinic, broke a window.
“The window” is a pane of glass, about three by three feet, set in a frame on a pole at head height. A contestant’s name is painted on the glass. The contestant’s rivals set up with club and balls 25 yards away and try to hit a golf ball through the frame, breaking the glass.
Woods took one shot to get his range, then broke the glass with his second. Most of BB‘s contestants, who are lower-level would-be pro golfers, male and female, take half a dozen or more shots. The Big Break, however, does not stop there. The celebrity Big Break shows feature pro athletes or show biz people. The guys from Hootie and the Blowfish were so hapless the show faded out, mercifully, glass intact. At least that’s how I remember it, because I faded out, unable to watch any more.
THE LATEST SHOW, TRUMP NATIONAL, took place at Donald Trump’s Los Angeles area golf course of the same name. The series started with a group of men over 50 (thus eligible for the Champion’s Tour, which offered a couple of selected exemptions for the winner) and girls under 30, most of them on the Duramed Futures Tour and aspiring to the LPGA Tour (the LPGA gives the winner two exemptions).
Throughout the multi-week course of the show, the contestants vie with each other at hitting golf balls into target circles on greens, driving long, putting from various distances, and eventually actually playing golf holes. One by one, women and men are “eliminated” (“the heartbreaking eliminations,” as the promo says). In between shots, contestants are interviewed, and they all know how to be interviewed. We are all TV heads, it seems.
You, as a viewer, are meant to develop a rooting interest in one or more participants, and I guess people do. I guess a lot of people do. Because one of the common threads in the interviews with eliminated participants (they often get to “come back”) runs like this: “I can’t even walk down the street now, so many people know me from The Big Break.”
IF NOTHING ELSE, THE SHOW DISPLAYS, by inference, how good pro golfers really are. BB participants — at least the ones on Trump National — are scratch players, capable of playing even par golf. Bri Vega, the eventual female winner, won the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur tournament. And they are nowhere near as good as the players you see on the pro tours. Nowhere near.
The men were mostly a sympathetic lot, perhaps because they were older and weathered. The women — well, let’s just say I found Bri a bit of a pill. (I liked Rachel, the goofy-looking girl from Australia.)
As of last night, it was over. And I sat, wondering at myself for having watched the series and musing on what I thought of it all. Something had been tickling at me, something it reminded me of. And then I got it.
The Big Break is Queen for a Day, the old 1950s weeper. On Queen, the producers would select some hard-luck housewife whose daughter was stricken with leukemia and whose husband had lost an arm in an industrial accident, on and on, endless misery. And they’d give her stuff and make a big fuss over her. Back then, the program winner mercifully disappeared with her new washer and dryer and bedroom suite. Nowadays, the winners of The Big Break stick around.
They appear on other TGC shows, like Golf With Style. A few more programming wrinkles, they could make a career of this. Regular golf does not look so promising. When BB contestants take their shot at the pro tours, their prize for winning on the show, they tend to shoot ten over par and miss the cut.
Never fear. The Golf Channel will always report their results. I’m just waiting for the first BB winner to get slammed for income tax evasion.
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