One of my little side projects involves writing about movies, and I can tell you, no event has rocked the movie world more in recent memory than the mess-up at the Oscars two weeks ago, when Bonnie & Clyde said the wrong movie as the winner of Best Picture. We're still all trying to get our footing.
Oscar wonks and film nerds spend months, no, years, trying to break down the Best Picture race, guessing even before a single film has been released what movies might be the favorites. I actually wrote a piece last week trying to predict what movies might be nominated for next year's Oscars -- go "Dunkirk" -- even though the vast majority of those films aren't even finished being made yet. Imagine working on a movie, trying to get everything right, making sure your actors are getting along and have all their lines right, making sure you can get all your shots in before the crew goes on break, and reading that the movie you're working on right now, this very second, is an Oscar contender.
And I was the fifth person to write one of those pieces that week.
Thus, when the moment that all that time and energy and anticipation is focused on -- the actual reading of the winner's name -- is botched, it's disorienting and discombobulating. That moment should be a release of tension. Instead, it was confusing and muddled. It made you feel kind of stupid for spending so much time caring about it.
Fortunately, I had some experience in this particular field that most of my movie colleagues did not. I had seen this before. I write about college basketball.
As we approach Sunday's Selection Show, let us not forget last year's "La La Land" no, whoops, I mean, "Moonlight" moment, when the bracket itself leaked an hour before the names were released. Man, what a moment. We spend the entire year putting together our bracketology projections -- the first ones will come up within minutes of the Final Four ending, perhaps even before that -- and let me tell you, there are dozens. (Literally: The Bracket Matrix has several dozen projections.) There are whole fan bases who will either be exhilarated or devastated by whatever that Selection Show tells us on Sunday. Players' whole careers will be vindicated or decimated; coaches will be fired; the lives of thousands upon thousands of people will be altered by that show. They even bring in cameras to catch people's reactions when the bracket is announced. It's a life-changing moment.
And the bracket was leaked. I, like the rest of you, was able to follow along with the leaked bracket as they announced it on the show. The players are on social media like the rest of us, which means they surely knew too. By the end of the show, you were watching players and teams "react" to news they already knew. They were acting. It was like the Oscars all over again.
And, like the Oscars, it was due to greed and self-satisfaction. The Best Picture flubbed announcement happened because one dopey PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant decided it was more important that he tweet out pictures of Emma Stone than make sure Warren Beatty got the right envelope. The NCAA breach was due to different factors. Remember, CBS and its "corporate champions" extended the show to a full two hours, officially to "extend the drama" but actually to just make us watch more ads. (And also to watch Charles Barkley, a man who cheerfully knows nothing about college basketball, vamp to fill time to that an executive at Turner can boast of his Innovative Synergistic Strategies at some board meeting somewhere.) They have goosed this event, this simple recitation of names on a sheet, to maximize their own profit, while the players -- the ones actually playing the games that are lining their pockets and who don't get a dime out of any of this -- sit around as props for "drama." St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett knew his team didn't make the tournament long before the bracket announcement confirmed it; "The show wasn't over yet. They hadn't done the final bracket, but we knew," he said.
Here's what I wrote about this in the minutes after the leak:
For 25 years, the selection show has been the ultimate edge-of-your-seat viewing experience, when the lives of thousands of human are forever altered, from players to coaches to university presidents to athletic directors to students to fans to the poor schmucks with the spit buckets. You couldn't look away. This is what CBS was counting on: having your undivided attention, having the exclusivity of the most coveted information in sports. Then they decided to be greedy, to make everybody sit and agonize for an extra hour as professional television men babbled and filled time and we repeatedly were informed of the plot for some CSI spinoff. But then the leak happened, at roughly the same time the bracket would have been nearly announced in total, if the show had been only one hour. For anyone following along on Twitter, all the suspense was gone. All the excitement went away. All the uncertainty -- the driving force of the whole enterprise -- evaporated. Suddenly, you didn't need to watch at all. Good. It serves CBS right. They had it coming. The leak was a disaster for them. For the rest of us, it felt like justice.
Seriously, people: TWO HOURS. That is as long as an actual basketball game.
This year, though, they're going to do it right, they say. First off, the show is only 90 minutes this year, which is still insane but at least slightly less insane. The shortening of the show is less about ratings, though, than it is about trying to avoid another leak. They have taken "extra precautions" to make sure the bracket is not leaked. And perhaps most helpfully: They've promised to reveal the whole bracket "in the first 30-40 minutes." This is what fans have been asking them to do for years: Just give us the names and get out of the way.
All it took was an enterprising leak. In the same way the Oscars will make sure they never get the wrong name again, the NCAA is improving its show after a public embarrassment. Maybe the bracket will get leaked out again. Who knows what improvements the show will make then?