On the Olympics: Testing Our Medal

We’ve recently returned from a week-long sojourn to a tropical paradise, and thus were unable to commit the 10-12 hours a day we hoped watching the NBC Networks Olympic coverage of events like water polo, handball, indoor volleyball, ping-pong (sorry, table tennis), field hockey and trap shooting.  We were, however, able to catch part of NBC’s prime time telecasts, the carefully cultivated, perfectly orchestrated alchemy of prestigious events of which the Americans just happen to win the majority.  And if you think watching NBC’s tape delay broadcasts here in America is tough, try doing it twenty miles (or was it kilometers?) from Venezuela.

Upset about the admittedly completely unnecessary and pedantic Mary Carillo explains London segments? Fine.  But better than coverage not starting til 9pm EST and then finding the telecast constantly interrupted by an unknown Aruban man in a desolate, sad locker room set, serving as something of a local Bob Costas amid open lockers and prop gym bags.  Even worse is that these interstitials preempted the commercials.  The Olympics is the Super Bowl of commercials.  Normally we’d prefer to fast-forward right through all of them, but if we had our choice of watching a random guy pontificate about Michael Phelps in Papiamento or watching every single McDonald’s commercial, we’d choose the latter.  At least the second option gives us a the chance for a sports celebrity cameo, or a catchy jingle, or, God willing, a new Happy Meal Toy.  Or we could just use that time to visit the bathroom or get a snack, but, instead, while Aruban Bob Costas chats with the small island’s foremost track and field expert, we flip over to Lifetime to see if Forrest Gump is still on, not sure how long this detour from London is going to last (which, we admit, is a very specific experience, so we apologize if this particular situation does not apply to you).

Okay, so we’re exaggerating here.  It really wasn’t that bad.  But neither is watching the main events on tape delay here in the contiguous US of A, despite all the caustic vitriol  spat at NBC over its delayed gratification approach to the games.  What the people who level all the criticism at NBC for withholding the most interesting (to Americans) events til after 8pm (and, really, til 11pm) don’t seem to consider, or put much stock in to, is that most Americans (save for those who are currently employed and spend most of their day watching Razon Ramon documentaries producing high quality journalism and insightful media criticism), aren’t home at 2pm to watch the entirety of the Tween Women’s Uneven Bars final.  That doesn’t mean that NBC couldn’t cling to journalistic integrity, demonstrate a responsibility to delivering unfiltered, untainted Olympics coverage, and air the whole event live.  But then what?  Rebroadcast it again later?  In its entirety?  Or in repeats is it permissible to edit the events down?  And does NBC, even with its seemingly infinite cadre of cable channels, have the airtime to show the same competition twice?  On the other hand, if they air everything in real-time, what does NBC show in prime-time?  Grimm repeats?  Rock Center: Live from Westminster Abbey?  Start the Tonight Show three hours early?  No.  Make no mistake, NBC has not spent billions of dollars securing the rights to the Olympics to present sports in the most comprehensive, informative, honest and fan-friendly way.  They’re in it for the same reason ESPN is (despite what its acronym might imply), to make gobs and boatloads and gobloads of money.  Let’s not forget that.

And let’s not hold that against them.  For NBC, the Olympics is a two-week-long special edition of America’s Got Talent (Phelps, Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin) and The Biggest Loser (Mckayla Maroney, any country other than the USA).  It’s the marketing push Whitney really needed.  And to suggest that NBC has some responsibility to the American citizen not to present the most popular events in the most melodramatic, heavily-edited, Al Trautwig-hosted, Cinderella-story way is silly, and, really, hypocritical.  Yank all 10pm dramas in favor of Jay Leno, shame on NBC.  Expect NBC not to value Olympic ratings above all else, shame on you.

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Filed under Across the pond, Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Matt Christopher Books, Must See TV

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