Thursday, November 23, 2006

it's a noble gas, gas, gas

Neil Patrick Harris was more entertaining in the first two minutes of this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage than Gary Valentine was in the last two years on CBS. As the telecast went on, NPH did get stuck in the "be thankful you're not out in the rain like me" rut but I can forgive him for that. In fairness to Valentine, I saw him do a short stand-up set in Knoxville earlier this year. He is much better at that than he is at ad-libbing or interviewing kids. I'm not alone in thinking that he struggled during previous parades.

Why does CBS bother? My guess is that they do it for JC Penney. Obviously NBC's coverage is all about the Macy's. There are still more advertising dollars to be had and CBS is able to give JC Penney a place to promote its after-Thanksgiving sale and its tie-in with Josh Groban. I also saw ads for other department stores that may be shut out of the three hour Macy's commercial on NBC. I used to think that CBS wanted to give some additional exposure to balloon characters from their sister network Nickelodeon.

On the whole I liked watching the unofficial CBS broadcast because they covered the parade more like a sporting event while NBC stuck to the Macy's approved script. Last year I wrote about the big difference in the way CBS and NBC respectively acknowledged and ignored the accident with the M&Ms balloon. This year Hannah Storm and Dave Price joked about how long it would take to cook Big Bird and how hard it would be to peel Healthy Mr. Potato Head. I was surprised to see the M&Ms balloon return to the parade this year especially right behind the float from rival chocolate company Hershey's.

While I like their freedom to ad-lib, my gripe with Hannah and Dave is that they don't know enough about the parade. They often referred to balloons as floats, just like last year. When the "80th Anniversary Hot Air Balloon" balloon went past, Hannah and Dave seemed genuinely surprised that there were live people riding in the gondola, much less be able to recognize them. NBC's coverage started with a closeup of parade executive producer Robin Hall in the gondola. To me, it looked like a helium filled replica of a hot-air balloon despite what Hannah and Dave said.

I have to watch both channels if I want to see who is on the floats. The marching bands generally stop and play for CBS in Times Square but the floats cruise past and save their lip-synch performances for NBC in Herald Square. The bad weather created some unintentional comedy during the musical numbers at the end of the parade route. Raindrops on the NBC camera lenses made it look as if the skimpy costumes of the Rockettes were pixelized, just like during the unnecessary censorship bit on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." By flipping between the networks, it was apparent that CBS airs the parade out of sequence. They must record whatever happens during commercial breaks and play it back later.

The wind and rain almost kept the big balloons from flying this year. They stayed pretty close to the ground but at least we got to see them. If it were up to me, there would be more balloons. In fact, I would enjoy an all-balloon parade. CBS showed a factoid that said that if put end to end, the balloons from the past 80 years would stretch the length of Manhattan island.

The Macy's balloons are rich in detail. Their faces are usually sculpted rather than painted on. Sometimes less-detailed balloons turn up in other places like the Dogwood Arts Festival Parade in Knoxville. I just learned that there are balloon parades in Springfield, Massachusetts and Stamford, Connecticut.

If I were buying or renting a parade balloon, I would want one that's horizontal, not vertical. On days like today, the vertical ones look ridiculous at low altitude. I still prefer the balloons that look like they should be flying. In the '70s, the Underdog balloon flew while the Superman balloon stood with his hands on his hips. The man of helium filled steel was eventually redesigned in the '80s.

So which was the best balloon in this year's parade? I liked Super Grover and Scooby-Doo. How about you?

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Blogger Frank Strovel III said...

How those performers kept those big smiles on their faces in that cold, wind-driven rain, I'll never know.


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