Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 30: Learning on the Job

It’s very easy to tell when someone on TV is learning on the job. It’s often very painful to watch.

What do I mean by “learning on the job”? It’s quite simple. There are two basic scenarios at play: In one, a child or young adult actor is cutting their teeth on camera. In the other, a former athlete is transitioning to become an analyst (for their respective sport). I will take note of some improvements in either case, though it is still difficult to watch in the meantime.

Acting Is for Beginners

Once in a blue moon, you will come across a wonderful child actor who appears to have his/her priorities in order. This kid is very professional and you will hear wonderful things about him/her by older co-stars, especially well-known veterans in the entertainment industry. (Mara Wilson, Dakota Fanning, and Abigail Breslin quickly come to mind. So does Jonathan Jackson, who started acting when he was about 11 years old.)

Most other kids are naturally rough out of the gate. This is part of the reason why young adults are hired to play teenagers. Chances are, those older actors have been working hard at their craft for at least five years; it shows in the way they are able to deliver their lines and successfully convey emotion.

Another reason to hire young adults is the pressures put on actors. Hollywood can be cruel to children and adults, and one can only be considered to be as good as his last project. This makes it especially difficult for a child without a good parental support system to grow up, whether or not the child continues to act into adulthood. Hollywood is also known for drugs, and they can be particularly tempting for a child to partake in.

Why are kids still hired, then? Children need to be represented in programming and for a general feeling of realism for a number of shows. In these ways, child actors are unavoidable. Also, some kids are definitely hired due to nepotism. It can be obvious when a kid is related to the producer or a writer on the show (or another actor). Additionally, the “cute” factor can be the primary reason some children are hired in the first place. That falls apart as those children grow.

In any case, their work hours should be closely monitored and I believe only those with the strongest acting talent at that age should be highlighted. Of course, much of the above should apply to young adult actors. Bad acting translates across language barriers. And while it can be laughable at times, it ultimately takes away from the story.

What cases bother me?

Just look at the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon (and Cartoon Network’s live action shows when they had them). I had some nice things to say about Disney, but the acting could be better in many cases. The fact is Disney and Nickelodeon are littered with shows that feature first-time actors (of any age, to be fair) and they are mostly comedic in nature. And it’s made worse by the fact that the shows often include fake laughter from other children in the audience.

Speaking of channels that appeal to children the network formerly named ABC Family — from The Family Channel and Fox Family Channel, and now called Freeform — featured struggling young actors. In particular, I still remember India Eisley’s performances on The Secret Life of the American Teenager. I guess one can say she improved by the end of the final season (2013), but she was particularly bad when the show began. She spoke in a monotone that was reminiscent of robots. In the back of my mind, I know she was hired because of who she knew. It turns out that she is the daughter of David Glen Eisely and Olivia Hussey. David Glen Eisley is a noted musician who has appeared on shows like Seventh Heaven. For those who don’t know who Hussey is, she is best known for her role as Juliet in the 1968 film adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.

Here’s another example: I vaguely remember watching a few actors on a Spanish-language telenovela in once scene. There were two women and a man. The man was especially bad, and he kept repeating the term “homosexual” in reference to another man.

While we’re on the subject, soap operas are known for hiring inexperienced actors. However, the volume of work serves as a boot camp for them. As a result, they can make huge strides in a shorter period of time. Some well-known actors who worked on soaps early in their careers include Julianne Moore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jenson Ackles, and Meg Ryan. Sarah Michelle Gellar started out on All My Children, and that is how she first grabbed some major attention, but she will never mention that.

This Is My New Day Learning on the Job

There are times when ESPN (or TNT) hires some former athlete to be an analyst. Dude is often wet behind the ears, so it can be tough to watch him stumble through his sentences. This is not so much a complaint as it is a general observation, but I’ll pose a question after listing a few examples:

Charles Barkley still kind of fits into this category — and so does Shaquille O’Neal — but those guys are funny for the most part. It is enjoyable to watch those guys talk trash and rip on each other.

Two years ago, I said that former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson might be the worst ex-athlete/analyst on television. I had nothing against him personally, but he has never been a great public speaker. It was rough hearing him discuss what he has been assigned to speak about on the NFL Network. Currently, I would say that Tomlinson has made major strides. Now, Ike Taylor is in his place.

I have heard negative reviews of former tennis player Andy Roddick, but I have never seen FOX Sports 1.

Now, take the above cases and ask yourself whether ESPN or any other network would even hire an unknown to have such a job in front of the camera if they were as rough as some former athletes. We both know the answer.

Here Are Some Good Examples for Contrast

Two Guys who have improved are ESPN’s Mark Schlereth and Chris Broussard. Schlereth was markedly nervous the first time he was on NFL Tonight (which would later become NFL Live), but he is definitely brimming with confidence nowadays. There are occasional slip-ups every now and then, but he is much stronger than how he began. Broussard was especially rough when he began, but I can tell that he has been settling in his role as a basketball analyst.

Two guys I don’t mind as analysts are Tedy Bruschi and Ray Lewis. Bruschi is far better than Lewis, but both had a natural ability to speak in front of the camera. Bruschi had this “Okay” tick when he started but it looks like it has straightened out with more experience.

Here is a sharp comparison between two brothers: Sterling Sharp has always been great in front of the camera for as long as I have seen him. He speaks fast and clear and with authority. His younger brother, Shannon (CBS, along with Dan Marino in 2014) speaks fast, but not with the authority and clarity of Older Brother. I still find both brothers entertaining regardless.

I’m Kinda Mixed on These Two

Even as a Niners fan, I found it exceedingly difficult to listen to press conferences given by Jim Harbaugh when he was the head coach. All he will give was “Ah,” ” Umm,” a whole bunch of smoke and mirrors, and empty platitudes. I sincerely hope he is not hired by any network if and when he decides to retire from coaching or having an active role in football operations. That’s provided he acts like that, given he has been a far better speaker as a player. Maybe he’ll surprise me

One former athlete who has a promising career as an on-air analyst is Maurice Jones Drew. He is a natural and this was apparent with guest appearances on NFL Live. He is currently working for NFL Network, but I don’t like who he has been used thus far. He is one of the best speakers on the network imo given what I had seen before. Let’s hope NFL Network gives him more to work on in the future.

Next up in the series, I’ll be talking about some shows where contestants may also be learning on the job.


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