Super Bowl Television: Fade to Black And Up with People

Super Bowl XL viewers witnessed a relatively boring football game, somewhat lackluster commercials--even the Rolling Stones couldn't spice up the proceedings. Now, throw in a five-second broadcast delay and future Super Bowls threaten to be a colorless affair. Just paint it black.

The game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks was an error-prone affair. The halftime musical interlude, provided by the Rolling Stones and their three-song set, seemed like a chance for the old bad boys of rock to offer up a bit of danger. Of course this is the post-Janet Jackson, Super Bowl-age. All would be safe.

The Stones' first song, "Start Me Up," has lots of sexual overtones--a song that was planned and approved months ago by the NFL. Except, that is, for the song's last two lines--which refer specifically to ejaculation. The Stones apparently approved a decision by the NFL to have Mick Jagger's microphone turned down as he sang the final word of each of those two lines. The NFL also dropped sound on Jagger "as he used a barnyard reference to roosters in his second song, 'Rough Justice,'" according to USA Today.



This was not an audio malfunction. But it does speak to the NFL's still ongoing problems. Ever since Janet Jackson's breast-baring incident two Super Bowls ago, the league has been trying to find edgy--but not too edgy--musical talent. Last year elder music statesman Paul McCartney took a turn.

NFL wants to remain somewhat hip, so it tries to bridge the age gap--the young and old Super Bowl viewers--by going after 60-year-old-plus rock musicians. What does it get? An AARP-age rock musician who still sings about jacking off.

ABC installed a 5-second delay--the first time ever for a Super Bowl--to take care of musicians who, seemingly, can't be trusted. So even if the audio guy from Don Mischner Productions, which produced the halftime show, went asleep at the switch, the ABC broadcast audio guy would back him up.

Even TV commercial producers pulled back, avoiding any risky content for Super Bowl XL. Critics called this batch of commercials one of the blandest in recent years.

This is all part of the NFL's hope to fully live out its marketing fantasy for the Super Bowl to be a family TV event. Get them while they're young, and they'll stay with the NFL for their entire TV life. It's NFL's right to do what it likes with its content. It's also the right of the Stones if they want to score "Let It Bleed" for a commercial selling Band-Aids.

Let's be honest, though. Rock and roll lyrics are about sex; and the Stones, with their long history, perhaps have more of these lyrics than most other rock groups. So why hide? And why hide what is also on the football field--trash talking, foul-mouthed players, perhaps spitting on each other?

Too violent, you say, for "family entertainment"? Football just happens to be a violent game. Give viewers a real game, a real song, and as little censorship as possible. If that's not possible, have the teams play flag football and bring back that always edgy Super Bowl halftime group of a few years ago, Up With People.

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