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NBC's Olympic Non-Coverage

by Neena Louise

Now that the 2000 Summer Olympics are over, NBC should hang their head in shame.

I feel very fortunate to live in an area where I can receive CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and their prolific live Olympic coverage. From Day 1 until the Closing Ceremonies, I enjoyed hours and hours of LIVE coverage, while NBC had only a few hours per day of TAPED coverage. The only thing NBC covered live was the U.S. vs. France gold medal basketball game on the last day (and that's the actual last day...not the NBC "last day").

During the 1996 Olympics, I could flick back and forth between NBC and CBC and watch various events, since both networks tended to cover different events during the same time periods (though, even then, NBC's coverage was mostly from tape). This time, the caliber of NBC's coverage became obvious on Day 1: On CBC, I watched live coverage of the Women's Triathlon (making its debut as a medal event) and witnessed (live) the spectacular crash and thrilling couldn't-be-closer finish (live), while NBC aired yet another rehash of the Salt Lake City scandal and tape of the Opening Ceremonies (which had already aired twice on CBC by that time). CBC continued through the night (all night) with live record-busting swimming races and various other events, while NBC aired such scintillating fare as Jay Leno, Earth: Final Conflict, Conan O'Brien...you get the picture. The Women's Triathlon wasn't "covered" by NBC until almost 24 hours after the event and they didn't even pretend it was live. It was broadcast complete with a laughably corny script set to "moving" music, and resembled a cheap documentary rather than an important sporting event. It was unintentionally hilarious, disrespectful to the athletes and insulting to the viewers.

Why in the world did NBC not cover anything live? They haven't bothered to reply to my queries (big surprise, there), so I can only speculate. And I speculate the answer is, of course: MONEY. I suspect they felt no one would be up at 4 a.m. to watch live coverage (well, I was!), so they taped everything, edited it together and made it as slick and tight as they could in order reel in the ratings. This amounts to a recap. If I had wanted a recap, I would have watched the news (the Canadian news, that is, since no one in the US was even allowed to report on the results until NBC actually broadcast the event). Olympic events lose a great deal when you watch them on tape. I'm not sure why, but a live event is infinitely more thrilling than a taped one. I suspect it's because you're watching something as it happens rather than something that has happened. There were times that CBC aired taped events, but the anchors made it crystal clear that it was from tape both before and after the segment aired, and the tape was never 20 hours old (it was rarely more than an hour old), unless shown during the daily morning "highlights" program. NBC, on the other hand, pretended the day-old tape was live and, other than Day 1's disclaimer, never bothered mentioning that everything was taped (as if no one was on to their clever little deception ...puh-LEEZE!).

NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol claimed that, with the huge amount of money involved, "you have to put this on to reach the widest possible audience,...You HAVE to." Well, CBC managed it just fine (live) with a significantly smaller budget than NBC, so NBC's appalling greed once again becomes startlingly apparent in its decision to only air taped Olympic coverage (usually only in prime time). At times, they even took up the entire time slot with a single event - as was witnessed with the gymnastics finals. CBC aired the final hour of the gymnastics (live, of course) early in the morning, and aired taped highlights and repeats throughout the daytime hours (which was typical for CBC's daily coverage: air live event, then air taped repeats). NBC, on the other hand, swallowed most of their prime time slot (after CBC had already aired it twice) with extensive taped coverage of gymnastics with only a few short glimpses of other competitions stuck in here and there. So, nothing else happened that day? No one else competed? No medals were won in anything else??? Give me a break! If you don't like gymnastics, an entire day of "coverage" was wasted.

NBC insists this is what people want. I was aghast at Ebersol's Number One Stupid Comment: "The results of the Olympics are not what truly matter to the vast majority of the audience. They're interested in the story." Is NBC really so out of touch that they actually believe this?!?! If they do, why didn't they just fill Olympic coverage time with bios and documentaries and forget those pesky sporting events? If the proliferate grumbling I've heard from the public and NBC's disappointing Olympic ratings are any indication, this is NOT what people want. They do NOT want to watch old tape, schlocky bios and incessant, so-called "inspirational" features about athletes during the Olympics - they want to see the OLYMPIC GAMES (duh). Save the bios and features for the post-Olympic documentary video (which NBC was already advertising for sale half-way through the Olympics). Didn't NBC learn anything from 1996? There was a backlash about taped events in 1996 as well, and people sent thousands of complaints about the lack of live coverage. But did NBC's coverage get better? Of course not! It got worse. Much worse. God forbid they should listen to those annoying viewers!

And then there's the difference between NBC's and CBC's reporting styles. Both NBC and CBC focused on their respective country's athletes (as was to be expected), but while CBC's commentators were enthusiastic and excited over any good competition, NBC's commentators seemed bored and uninterested if an American was not involved or not medalling. True, the Canadians had a disappointing Olympic Games winning just 14 (mostly bronze) medals compared to the US's 90 medals, but CBC still covered all the events with just as much enthusiasm as they would've if a Canadian had been medalling. Case in point: CBC's commentators' enthusiasm was infectious as they got more and more excited as Australia's Ian Thorpe broke a world record in swimming. NBC? Hours later when they finally aired the race, their commentators were enthusiastic, but not excited, and had the bad grace to temper Thorpe's spectacular world record time with repetitive "as was expected" comments (as if breaking world records happens every day). I found this extremely disrespectful - both to the athlete and the country being represented (in this case, the host country). Of course NBC is going to focus on the USA and its very successful Games, but to the exclusion of all others??? As proud of the US as I am, that's just not right! With 199 countries represented in the 2000 Summer Games, there were actually events in which the USA wasn't participating or was eliminated early on. Does that mean we're not even allowed to see these events? Hey, NBC - in case you didn't know this - the Olympics is a WORLD event!!

I watched little of NBC after Day 2. I only tuned in if CBC was in commercial, or I'd missed something, or I was curious on what spin NBC put on an event that I'd already seen live on CBC. I'm disgusted with NBC's dreadful non-coverage and I pity anyone who didn't have access to CBC during these latest Olympics.

"Must See TV"? I think not.

Some Olympic Moments:

Most "duhhhh" comment:
"There's the Central African Republic. Located in Central Africa". [NBC, during the Opening Ceremonies' "Parade of Nations"]

Great moment turned into a big snorefest:
CBC's incessant reruns of Simon Whitfield's gold medal win in the Men's Triathlon.

Most Stupid Comment (tie):
[Keeping in mind that NBC had very little Olympic coverage outside of prime time]: "We think so much of it, we're airing it during prime time!" [Bob Costas on the trampoline events making their Olympic debut].

"They won the gold four years ago. And kept the title for four years." [Bob Costas. Then, realizing what a stupid thing to say that was, went on to explain why you keep the title for four years since the Olympics are every four years. Oh, Bob....shut-up, why don't you?]

Most boring coverage:
CBC's "panel discussions" (no one cares about has-been athletes and obscure sports officials and politicians making hindsighted comments about anything).

Moments we could've done without:
Every single stupid, idiotic, corny, overly-dramatic (and did I mention stupid?) "background story" of athletes that NBC aired.

Sport I'd never thought I'd be caught dead watching (never mind enjoying):
Women's volleyball. For some reason, the Russia vs. Cuba gold medal game sucked me in.

Biggest show-stealer:
Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea in Africa. In case you haven't heard the story (and how could you not?), after his two co-racers were disqualified for false starts in the 100 m qualifying swim, Moussambani had the entire pool all to himself. He'd never even SEEN an Olympic size swimming pool, never mind swum 100 metres, never mind competed in a 100 m race, never mind in the Olympics! He struggled and strained all alone and finished (barely), totally exhausted, in over 1:52 (a full minute over the lowest possible qualifying time). The crowd went wild. It was a great moment (especially when experienced LIVE). It's too bad the media ruined it by exploiting it and making Moussambani an instant celebrity.

A thunk on the head:
To both NBC and CBC for interrupting their commercial time to cover the Olympics.


(and not a moment too soon...)

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