For hometown fans of the Miami Dolphins last week, the next best thing to being there was watching the coverage of their beloved team on local television. All three network affiliates sent teams of anchors, reporters and technicians to Super Bowl XIX to provide hours of in-depth, up-to-the-minute, you-saw-it-here-first puffery. True, TV news staffs traditionally get light-headed during Super Week, but Miami's stations carved out new territory.
To get a sense of the TV overkill, I put a stopwatch on the affiliates and the leading independent station from Sunday night through Saturday night. The stations devoted a phenomenal 40% of their aggregate news hole (10 hours, 14 minutes) to Super Bowl hype, compared with 25% (41 minutes) alloted to previews of President Reagan's inauguration. Each affiliate put a crew in the lobby or mezzanine of the Oakland hotel where the Dolphins were billeted. All they did was talk about how excited everybody was, and smile and show that they were live on camera. There was nothing to report, but that was beside the point. You got the idea that America could have invaded Cuba, and WSVN—Channel 7, say, would have gone to anchorman Peter Ford live by satellite at the Super Bowl.
To steal a phrase from local TV news shows, here is our exclusive eyewitness report of the record for most time spent hyping the Super Bowl in a newscast before getting to any other stories: 12 minutes, 20 seconds (WPLG-10, Monday night at 11). Channel 10's top story that particular night: Anchor-people assess degree of the Dolphins' mental relaxation. The second major story was an exclusive interview with the Superdads (Joe Montana Sr. and Dan Marino Sr.). A report on Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko's illness got 11 seconds that night.
But wait a minute, there's more—much more. Channel 10 weatherman Walter Cronise wore a hat with a Dolphin doll atop it. Channel 10's Susan Candiotti sent word from Oakland, live by satellite, that Dolphin defensive end Kim Bokamper had just gone down to eat in San Jose because he likes the hot dogs there. Andy Leopold of WCIX-6 asked a Pekingese dog who would win the big game; the dog, which was wearing sunglasses, paused for a moment before barking. Then there was Channel 10's noninterview with Chester, a parrot that supposedly can sing the Dolphins' fight song. On this occasion, Chester turned and stared balefully at the reporter, Frank Forte.
Here is another eyewitness report of the three major scoops of the week: Dan Marino is half Polish, his mother's maiden name being Kolczynski! (Tony Segreto, Channel 4.) Don Shula rides rapid transit to press conference!! (Bret Lewis, Channel 7.) Dolphin tight end Dan Johnson has a "regional irritation" from a "severe gastrointestinal disorder!!!" (Segreto again.) Viewers learned more about players' clinical charts and eating habits than they ever learned about Reagan's.
Of the three affiliates, Channel 7 aired the most thoughtful stories of the week. Ford interviewed a psychologist to explain "Dolfan" fanaticism, compared Silicon Valley technology with that in the Miami area and even cut to an interview of former Dolphin Super Bowl star Mercury Morris, imprisoned outside Miami for drug abuse.
The TV stations justified the overkill by calling Super Week a major civic story. "This is a fragmented community," said Channel 10's vice-president for news, Steve Wasserman. "There's one thing and only one thing that brings it together, and that's the Dolphins." Indeed, the news coverage proved that municipal pride in America is alive and well—at least in the 41st-largest city. But Edward R. Murrow must be turning in his grave. Super Week showed once again that local news is nothing of the sort. It's show biz.
Of course, the TV people know this better than anyone. Halfway through the week—after countless stories about souvenir sales, children singing the Dolphin fight song and fans who painted their fingernails aqua—anchorman Ralph Renick of Channel 4 had had enough. "Let's see," he said. "Today is Wednesday, the game is Sunday. That allows about 100 more hours of questions, photos, predictions, stories about Chinatown, Sausalito, Oakland and Palo Alto. Next week we may miss all this hype and hoopla, but somehow we doubt it." Right on, Ralph. As Channel 6 anchorman Solon Gray said in his final appearance, "It's gonna be a relief not to hear anything for a couple of hours tomorrow."