Talk about overplay. It probably meant well, but Channel 4's decision to constantly run a crawl at the top of the screen about a missing child during the second half of the NCAA men's basketball championship game became silly after awhile.
It would have been understandable if the station ran the crawl intermittently Monday night -- say every three minutes -- about the 4-year-old North Tonawanda girl, Serenity Platts, whose abduction led to an Amber Alert being issued. Better yet, Channel 4 could have dropped some commercial time to run a short news update as a public service.
But running the crawl constantly during Florida's title win over Ohio State served no purpose other than to annoy and distract some viewers.
"Because of the critical nature of a child abduction, I didn't want to leave anything to chance," explained Channel 4 News Director Joe Schlaerth.
This isn't about comparing the life of a child to the importance of a championship game, or to minimize the value of the Amber Alert to help locate abducted children. It is just that Channel 4 appeared to be exaggerating its own importance.
Thankfully, the child was discovered, apparently unharmed, less than an hour after the game ended, and the man who allegedly abducted her, David J. Grover, was arrested. Asked if he thought the crawl helped, Schlaerth said he didn't know. "I know it didn't hurt," he added.
We've come to accept that the stations are often crawl-happy, usually to tell us about a future weather problem that we can't do anything about.
It is just hard to understand what Channel 4 expected viewers at home to do after they read the constant crawl. Did it expect viewers to abandon the game and go out in the dark and look for the child and the alleged abductor? Did it expect the suspect was watching the game and the constant crawl would force him to turn himself in?
Most likely, Channel 4's crawl had some unintended consequences. Those interested in the story were likely to switch to Channel 2 News or 7 News, which covered the story on the 11 p.m. newscasts while the game was on Channel 4.
My initial thought was that Channel 4's crawl machine had become stuck. This thought continued when, incredibly, Channel 4 ran the crawl after it started its newscast around midnight, a few minutes before the child was found.
Channel 4's news competitors didn't initially run the crawl constantly. Channel 7 ran its regular sports crawl during John Murphy's sportscast. The other stations only appeared to go to extended crawls after Channel 4 continued to do so as CBS' post-game coverage dragged on.
Channel 2 did extend its 11 p.m. news by a few minutes to update the story and ran a constant crawl during "The Tonight Show." 7 News ran a crawl intermittently during ABC's "Nightline."
By the time Channel 4 finally carried its newscast, co-anchor Don Postles said the girl had been missing for about four hours and could have been 280 miles away. Soon after that, Channel 4 reporter George Richert dramatically announced she had been found and there was video of her recovery.
It is hard to tell what impact the crawl had on local viewership even after looking at the Nielsen ratings. At 11 p.m., Channel 2 led with a 10.9 rating, which isn't unusually high. 7 News had a 10.5, which is much higher than it normally gets.
The game averaged an 8.8 rating near the end from 11 to 11:30 p.m. on Channel 4 and averaged a 8.3 overall. The post-game show dipped to a 5.0 rating.
The constant crawl didn't appear to entice viewers to stay awake for Channel 4's late news to see the happy ending. It averaged about a 3.9 rating starting at midnight, which was about a point lower than "The Tonight Show" on Channel 2.
>'Dancing' stays strong
The big winner Monday night was ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," which had a strong 16.7 rating on Channel 7.
>Ask the coaches
Back to the game: It has become standard now for reporters to ignore issues that might surface after championships have been decided. ESPN didn't ask West Virginia Coach John Beilein about his interest in the vacant Michigan job after his team won the NIT. CBS avoided asking Florida coach Billy Donovan whether he was interested in the Kentucky job after winning the NCAA title game. I suppose you should let the coaches have time to celebrate, but a little digging wouldn't hurt. The coaches are big boys who know how to sidestep questions they don't want to answer.