BBC Just Held a Celebrity Darts Tournament with More Coherent Booking than WrestleMania 31
Much like wrestling, you have to watch a televised game of darts to truly understand its entertainment value. It might sound like a wholly tedious waste of time, a relic of a bygone era that should perhaps stay bygone — but it's not. There's a simplicity to darts that makes it rather compulsive viewing. As long as it hits the board, every dart means something. Even a low score is at least some form of progress towards an eventual victory. That makes it very easy for even someone completely ignorant of darts to get up to speed with the game and understand the flow of a match.
That's perhaps the reason that the BBC chose a darts tournament as the basis for a charity fundraiser in the run up to the biennial Red Nose Day telethon. Eight celebrities would each be paired with a professional darts player, and those teams would be put into a bracket to find out who was best. A bit like King of the Ring, but more like Lord of the Board or some other bad rhyme.
This could quite easily have been shit, but it turned out to be actually rather good. The small bracket played out quite nicely; the two favourites crushed most of their competition and ended up in a rip-roaring final, but there were plenty of smaller stories filling out the opening rounds of the competition as well. Richie George managed to use his skills to make up for comedian Roisin Conaty's complete lack of skill, dragging her to the semi-finals against all odds. Game show host Richard Osman used his passion for darts to make a very game run for the finals, despite being pipped to the post late on. Perhaps most memorably, comedian Bob Mortimer took to the stage daubed in carpet samples to help resuscitate the flooring option's decrease in popularity of recent years.
The presentation of the whole affair was, like normal darts on the tele, eerily reminiscent of televised pro wrestling. There was blaring theme music for each competitor, theatrical entrances and custom-made attires and even a rowdy crowd liable to break into a chant in support of their favourite at any given moment. However, there was a much more meaningful connection to pro wrestling lurking just under the surface of these more superficial similarities.
For time constraints — and likely to prevent too much televised darts being used as an argument against the TV licence — each bout except the final was given around twenty minutes TV time. That meant that not every leg of the game could be shown, with only the highlights being broadcast. That might sound fairly innocuous, but it's important to remember that any sort of editing like this can vastly change our perception of how events happened to unfold. It's just one example of the way that narrative has changed our perception of sport.
In pro wrestling, we know that the outcomes are predetermined to ensure the most exciting show for its audience — or, that's the idea, anyway. However, this practice is going on in every sport that people care to watch; the only difference is that those results are largely legitimate. Given the starting point of the two opposing teams or players, and the end point of the result, modern sports coverage is largely an attempt to place the events of a match into a narrative that makes some sort of sense to a human. In truth, it's very similar to pro wrestling, save for the fact that storylines are written on the fly because it's impossible to predict with complete certainty how an unplanned match is going to end.
This shouldn't be a particularly mind-blowing realization, but it's an important bit of context for the upcoming point about the aforementioned charity darts tournament. Sport is 'real' for the athletes involved — but for the rest of us, it's just about as 'fake' as pro wrestling. We like sport more if there's a story laid over it because it allows us to better process the action that we're seeing. However, these stories are works of fiction, largely put together by journalists and broadcasters looking to give their coverage some extra oomph. Some of the most media-savvy athletes have even been able to take advantage of this process to build their own legends for themselves.
The important part is that, given enough footage of celebrities playing darts, it should be fairly easy to put on a compelling week-long tournament. With half the competitors being professionals, and half the celebrities being keen darts fans, there was bound to be some engaging play caught by the cameras from time to time. From there, it's simply the job of the editor to play that footage in a sequence that the viewer can understand as a narrative.
Despite all signs suggesting otherwise, March did hold host to a sports entertainment event filled with colourful characters. Said characters each got a healthy reaction from the audience, and all brought something of their own personality to the table — albeit an exaggerated form of that personality. By the end, we'd seen several storylines play out, some based around pure competition and some lighter and more frivolous. Despite those narratives seeming to be plucked straight from the action unfolding in front of us, with a little bit of analytical thought it's quite easy to see that they were expressed by a selective retelling of events.
A celebrity darts tournament managed that, likely on a shoestring budget. WrestleMania, on the other hand, will be considered a success if the arena hasn't emptied before the main event begins. Look at the state of your wrestling.