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Q & A with Bud Greenspan : TV Sports Should Focus More on Athletes' Lives, Olympic Film Maker Says

December 16, 1987

Bud Greenspan, a critically acclaimed independent producer of sports films who wrote, produced and directed the official film of the 1984 Summer Olympics, "16 Days of Glory," and will make a two-hour film on the Calgary Winter Olympics, has strong opinions about the way television covers sports, and expressed some of those during a recent interview .

Question: If you were in charge of the sports division of a major network, what are some of the things you would do?

Answer: First of all, let me say I would last about a week. My main concern would be the aesthetic beauty of sports, the history and traditions surrounding the events, and the monumental sacrifices athletes make to achieve greatness. Ratings and profit margins would not be high priorities with me.

One thing I would've done was shown last summer's World Track and Field Championships at Rome in prime time. I love track and field. It's a beautiful sport. What you have to do is promote the event, and package it properly. That's what the Olympics are. Trumpets, pageantry and beautiful athletic competition. And they are marvelous. You could do the same thing with the World Track and Field Championships.

In 1980, ABC showed the start of the U.S. hockey team's victory over the Soviet Union a half-hour after the game was over. Here we had one of the great athletic events of our time, and it wasn't shown live in prime time.

Q: How would you cover such as the World Track and Field Championships?

A: I am a storyteller. You can't just show running and jumping. The beauty of sports is the human beings behind the events. I did a one-hour documentary on Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics. During that one-hour film, there were only 2 minutes 40 seconds of running. And there was none shown until the 27th minute.

What we did was create suspense as we developed our story with not only pictures, but also the written word, which is so very important.

With the coming of the electronic explosion, there is too much reliance on telling stories electronically, with pictures. I say still the best way to tell a story is verbally. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I say the right word can be worth a thousand pictures.

Q: Speaking of words, who are your favorite sports announcers?

A: I am partial to the storytellers, writers-turned-broadcasters such as Frank Deford, Dick Schaap and Larry Merchant.

Q: Generally, what is your opinion of today's play-by-play announcers and commentators?

A: I think the networks put too much emphasis on the personalities in the booth. I have never watched a game because of the announcers working it. Most play-by-play announcers are interchangeable, but the networks would like us to believe they are not.

Most announcers talk too much during a game, talking just to be talking.

It seems these days, with so many newspapers having sports TV critics, the announcers are very conscious of saying something that will get their name in the paper.

When Don Ohlmeyer was at NBC, he experimented with an announcerless football game. It wasn't a bad idea, and it would have worked better had it not been for a technical problem which didn't allow viewers to hear the P.A. announcer. Basic information is really all that is needed.

It really bothers me when the personalities in the booth overshadow the event itself.

I've always thought Frank Gifford and Dick Enberg are marvelous play-by-play announcers because they don't intrude on the event.

Q: The announcer with the great voice you use for your films is David Perry. Isn't he your brother?

A: Yes. He uses our mother's maiden name.

Q: Is it true that you once turned down a $1-million deal with ABC because they wanted to dub Howard Cosell's voice over your brother's?

A: You're close. Prior to the United States boycott of the 1980 Olympics at Moscow, I made a deal to sell a series of Olympic vignettes to ABC, even though NBC was to cover those Games.

Later, I was told by my friends at ABC that they wanted to be able to make some changes in the vignettes, including using their own announcers. I said if that was the case, we had no deal.

You see, the quality of my work is extremely important to me. Cappy (Greenspan's wife, who died in 1983) and I never had any children. Our films are our children. Our goal was always that our films would carry on our name and provide us with immortality.

Our films are our monument. I want to be remembered hundreds of years from now for my films. Rembrandt will always be remembered for his paintings, Beethoven for his music. So what I say is, why can't Greenspan always be remembered for his films?

Q: If you were a network director, how would you cover a major sporting event?

A: It is not a difficult job. If you have 16 monitors to look at, you simply select the shot that is telling the best story at the time. And you stay with that story. You don't break away to show a crowd shot or a shot of a coach. You stay with the story line until it is completed.

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