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Fox TV should go fish

November 11, 1999

If you had told me there were going to be fish on Fox television Sunday afternoon, I would have assumed that the Redskins were playing the Dolphins. But no. It was the World Championship of Bass Fishing, a spirited competition among professional anglers, that some misguided television producer somewhere assumed we would want to watch.

I admit, watch I did - with the same horrored fascination with which drivers look at an automobile accident, or state engineers look at the Baldwin House.

Now we've been treated to bass fishing as a sport, and if we accept this and legitimize it, can World Championship Quilting be far behind?

Fox tried to make "personalities" out of the fishermen, by listing thumbnails of competitors - my favorite was David Fritts, who listed as his hobby, "spending time with my wife and kids."

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That's a nice hobby. Not for everyone, granted. But it's good to see a man who doesn't get so wrapped up in the emotional side of family life that he can keep it in the same plane that he might reserve for stamp collecting or building model airplanes. In fact, I know men so warped they would list family life as their prime directive and relegate fishing the poor-sister status of hobby.

(One of the fishermen was a school superintendent, which means there's hope for Herman Bartlett if he ever gets irreconcilably sick of Western Middle School parents.)

These guys are serious and there is serious money to be made for guys who can consistently reel in the big ones. So on one level, it was only a matter of time before fishing made it big time, with its very own color commentators and corporate sponsors like Wal-Mart and Chevy Trucks.

The color commentator was a guy named Forrest, who kept us entertained with crackling bits of homespun insight, such as "Anyone who wouldn't be excited about fishing wouldn't be out there right now."

The game worked like this: A bunch of fishermen scattered out among a chain of lakes, and whoever came back with the most fish, in poundage, won. To try to create some aura of sports-like drama and legitimacy, Fox kept a "Dock Clock" running in the upper right hand corner of the screen. It counted down the amount of time the fishermen had left to fish and was useful to anyone who didn't happen to own his own wristwatch, or was unable to calculate on his own when 4 in the afternoon rolled around.

Fox had everything in place: The dossiers, the graphics, the announcers, the remote microphones, the Dock Clock - but the one thing they failed to have in place was the fish.

The guests of honor were notably absent, and catching as few as two bass was enough to put one on the "leaderboard." As the contest droned on, it more and more took on the air of a game between Notre Dame and Michigan where someone has forgotten to bring the ball.

By the end even the announcer, who admitted he had known nothing about fishing and clearly had been sent there by Fox as punishment for not having moussed properly, was unable to hide his boredom.

He looked forward to the boats coming ashore for the fish weigh-in because, I swear he said this, "that's when the drama will really begin."

If watching people weigh fish is what Fox considers "dramatic," I bet they must log a lot of hours at the seafood counter at Martin's. "Excuse me, miss, would you please weigh that orange roughy again? Oh heart, be still!"

Ah well, I shouldn't discourage Fox from showing fishing tournaments. It's still more exciting than golf.

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