The Al Gore-spearheaded Live Earth events -- nine shows on seven continents featuring 150 artists, as viewers were repeatedly advised -- may have been all about saving the Earth and clearing the environment, but the producers of the televised concerts owe viewers an explanation (or an apology) for the stink left in the wake of nearly 50 hours of programming.

The Al Gore-spearheaded Live Earth events — nine shows on seven continents featuring 150 artists, as viewers were repeatedly advised — may have been all about saving the Earth and clearing the environment, but the producers of the televised concerts owe viewers an explanation (or an apology) for the stink left in the wake of nearly 50 hours of programming. The concerts might advocate reusable resources, but why did anyone think that recycling MTV’s Live 8 coverage was a good idea?

On Sundance Channel, the music was parceled out in stingy one- or two-song packages, wedged in between short films about the ecological crises afflicting the planet, some, occasionally clever B&W celebrity-driven PSAs, “Hey You,” the Madonna-performed theme with a chorus which became the most annoying song in the world after the fifth repetition of the refrain some 15 minutes in, and inhouse ads. The breakdown in the early going was 30% music to 70% everything else.

Bravo called the first few hours of its coverage “Breakfast at Live Earth,” and featured hosts Karen Duffy and Dave Holmes engaging in the same kind of perky banter heard on other morning shows; everything was just wonderful, and every band’s performance was historic, although you had to wonder about their sanity after they repeatedly raved about Duran Duran’s creaky, uninspired perf.

Things improved when the Giants Stadium portion of the concerts began. Viewers were finally allowed to see the performers’ full, half-hour, sets. Among the highlights were Alicia Keys’ strutting her way through tough, gritty covers of the Spinners’ “Money” and Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ in the City” (she also covered Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me,” whose ecological theme made it a perfect choice, although she was beaten to the punch by Corinne Bailey Rae and John Legend’s perf in London). Keys was game but much less effective when she played Merrie Clayton to Keith Urban’s Jagger on the latter’s tough-minded cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” forcing her vocals and turning harsh and screechy.

Perhaps alone among the performers, Melissa Etheridge used the event to try to rally the aud in 1960s-style protest. Kelly Clarkson used her set to premiere live tunes from her album, “My December.” (And it’s hard to see what her label was so worried about; the tunes sound like the next logical step in her move to become the next Pat Benatar. Perhaps not as solidly constructed as “Since You’ve Been Gone,” she brings a sense of conviction and maturity.)

The Police was the band everyone was waiting for, and its fans were not disappointed. Give the band credit for not simply re-creating the hits, but by the time members reached their final tune, “Message in a Bottle,” Sting’s voice was showing some strain, and it was probably a good thing that Kanye West was there to relieve him.

But Bravo was not willing to leave well enough alone; during the concert, Duffy and Holmes moved backstage, taking up residence in a pair of chairs that appeared equidistant from the stage, the green room and the toilets, where performers and other celebrities could stop and chat. Holmes appeared to be instructed to ask everyone he met to give a personal ecological hint, turning the interviews into a green version of the L.A. Times’ “My Favorite Weekend.”

MSNBC’s coverage didn’t differ much from the Sundance Channel’s, although it took some “newsier” angles, such as producer Lawrence Bender’s speech at the Vatican, thanking the church for its support on ecological issues. And NBC’s network coverage, hosted by Ann Curry, provided a decent overview of the day’s events. Although, like the rest of the coverage, it gave short shift to the non-English-language performers; the shows in Shanghai, Johannesburg and Kyoto were barely mentioned.

The latter issue highlighted the biggest problem in the coverage — there was absolutely no coordination between the four outlets. The same three or four perfs were repeated ad nauseum; you could switch from Bravo to MSNBC or Sundance and see the same Red Hot Chili Peppers or Beastie Boys song. If you wanted to see, say, Madonna, it was hit or miss. (Her guitar-based arrangement of “Ray of Light” worked, at least until the chorus.) At one point Saturday night, Sundance and MSNBC were playing the same Keys song, with only a few seconds’ delay between them. Supposedly, schedules were available on Microsoft’s MSN website, but the full-featured feeds were available to only those using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser, which the company had not developed for Mac users. So much for not acting in a monopolistic fashion.

No matter how you watched the performances, they were in the hyperactive, Michael Bay-meets-MTV fashion favored by directors who think they need to pump up the energy: lots of quick cuts, swooping crane shots across the stage, long shots juxtaposed with roadie’s-eye view of drums of guitars, and shots of fans singing along. It was dizzying (especially when watched on the Internet feed’s small, unscalable screen) but did very little to make one feel the excitement of a great concert.

Other tech credits were disappointing: the opening moments, when a holographic Gore was introduced by the virtual reality band Genki Rockets as the author of “An Inconvenient Truth,” set the tone. Throws between promo material and perfs rarely seemed to catch songs at the beginning, and Duffy and Holmes sometimes introduced the wrong song.

Live Earth

Sundance Channel, MSNBC, Bravo, NBC; Fri.-Sat. July 6-7

Cast

Performers: Madonna, the Police, Alicia Keys, Duran Duran, Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend, Melissa Etheridge, Kelly Clarkson, Spinal Tap, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, others.
Hosts: Karen Duffy, Dave Holmes, Ann Curry.
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