Viewpoint: Too much talk, too many talkers Less is often more when it comes to commentary, but those in the booth won't stop talking long enough to listen. © Bertrand Langlois/AFP Getty Something dawned on me when I was watching ESPN and NBC’s coverage of the French Open this year. Television needs to come up with a new mute button. Not one that blocks out the sounds of the game. Listening to the ball come off the strings, the sliding (or squeaking, depending on surface) of the shoes, the grunts of the players, and the "shhhs" of a crowd before a big point—this is the soundtrack to my life, my passion. No, this new mute button will keep all of those sounds but simply, mercifully, block out the commentators’ blather. And it is, for the most part, blather, dumbed down to the lowest common denominator and more grating than Dick Vitale on Red Bull. Here are the two main problems with the way ESPN and NBC, among other networks, approach their coverage. 1. Too many talking heads For Serena Williams’ first round match at Roland Garros, for example, ESPN had four, count ’em four, commentators: Dick Enberg, Mary Carillo, Mary Joe Fernandez, and Pam Shriver courtside. What, they couldn’t squeeze John McEnroe, Pat McEnroe, and Bud Collins in there, too? Even the Superbowl usually uses fewer people in the booth. At a minimum, tennis broadcasters feel compelled to have three folks in the booth (a play-by-play guy, plus two "color" commentators) and one courtside for all matches. Clearly, someone has circulated an email suggesting there is strength in numbers, but it’s just not the case. This overkill approach turns telecasts into bad dinner parties, where everyone feels the need to get their two-cents into the discussion. Net result is a cacophony of incessant back-and-forth banter, much of which is off-topic. I sometimes feel John McEnroe spends more time talking about how lightweight racquets and string technology allow the players to hit the ball harder than he could in his day than he does actually calling the matches. This dinner-party dynamic is part and parcel of a second problem. . . . 2. Too much talk Tennis announcers dread silence, or dead air, as if they were working for radio. This all-the-time chatter ranges from the insignificant to the significant, the obscure to the obvious. One dreadful example: During an Ana Ivanovic match at the French, Ivanovic approached the net to take a floater out of the air. Enberg, who, I’m sorry, needs to start his retirement today, announced that Ivanovic is, well, coming to the net. It was quite helpful . . . . for all viewers of ESPN who happen to be blind, that is. In another match, the commentators described in detail how the chair umpire is checking a ball mark, as if viewers would mistake his pointing to the clay for something else. Sadly, there are countless examples. And Enberg isn’t the only guilty one. Mary Carillo and John McEnroe need to dial their talk (and egos) back. Ted Robinson could throw a few dozen fewer softball questions to McEnroe and, while he’s at it, stop offering up almost by-the-minute affirmations to Mac’s commentary. It’s all enough to drive tennis fans nuts. Really, how many times during a match do we have to be reminded that this is a "big match"? How many times do we have to hear those tired background stories? (I might lose it if I listen to the Ivanovic-pool chestnut one more time.) With Wimbledon approaching, much of which will be carried on ESPN and NBC, we can expect more of the same. I’m dreading it. So, at the risk of being presumptuous or rude, I’m confident I speak for most tennis fans when I implore these Chatty Kathys to show some restraint. We’ve got eyes. We can see what’s happening. More than that, there needs to be an understanding that less is much, much more. Tennis is a beautiful sport. Watching a point play out with only the sounds of the players, ball, and crowd is enough. No, really. And having quiet between points, as the players ready themselves for another slugfest, actually builds tension and adds to the drama. But the match’s momentum and excitement is disrupted when Carillo and company constantly interject their random thoughts, likes, and dislikes about the players. (Do I really need to know, or care, if Carillo admires a player for being "a jock"?) And if you think the state of commentary in the U.S. is in good shape then you didn’t have the privilege of catching the Tennis Channel’s coverage of the Masters Series events in Monte Carlo, Rome, and Hamburg. This is tennis on TV the way it’s supposed to be. And while the Tennis Channel doesn’t deserve full credit for the broadcasts, which come from a world feed, using European commentators who do all the Masters events, the network has, indirectly, shown us a better way. These announcers, two gents whose names escape me, are all about economy of words. Instead of describing everything the viewers can see, they let the action speak for itself. Instead of throwing out countless statistics, they offer sparse insight. Instead of being caught up in their own images, they rightfully take second fiddle to the players on the court. Instead of telling the back stories of every single player, they keep the attention squarely focused on where it belongs, the tennis. After a long point, they often just add the punctuation—"Brilliant," or, "Absolutely fantastic," or "a perfect clay-court slide"—rather than recapping everything you just saw. Sure, they can get carried away, talk too much, and traffic in clichés, and not everything they say is, in fact, brilliant. But it’s better than what’s offered in the U.S. Much better. Part of this difference is cultural. Televised sports in the U.S. are obsessed with pre-game, in-game, and post-game commentary and analysis and fixated on the notion of turning the broadcasters into stars themselves. Apparently, it’s not enough to have celebrities on the field, you need them in the booth, too. To see this contrast in full view, watch Sports Center on ESPN and the nightly Sky Sports recap of European (and primarily British) sports on Fox Soccer Channel. One set of anchors acts like a bunch of clowns, the others do something far more radical—they read the news and let you draw your own conclusions. I’d love to think that NBC and ESPN, among others, will sit their commentators down and ask them (nicely, of course) to take a page out of their European counterparts. It’s probably wishful thinking. In the meantime, I’ll wait for someone to devise that new mute button. James Martin is the editor-in-chief of TENNIS magazine.