Work in Sports
The Sydney Games have provided a soap-opera spirit
Sports Illustrated media columnist John Walters checks in three times a week during the Olympics with his coverage of the coverage of the Sydney Games.
Last week on this Web site my colleague, E.M. Swift, wrote a piece explaining why the Olympics are so often shown on tape-delay. The reason: soap operas.
According to Swift, who said that a CBS executive had explained it all to him, the network televising the Games does not want to risk alienating its loyal daytime drama audience by preempting its fare with a sporting event such as the Olympic Games. The network fears its core of soap-opera fans might be so motivated as to sample a soap on a rival network, never to return. The Olympics as serial killer.
I'm not buying it. What soap could compare to what we've witnessed thus far in Sydney? It's a veritable Aaron Spelling Bee. Thus far we've seen:
Sportscasters have groupies?
Sydney's Hotel Intercontinental is ground zero if you are a sportscasting groupie. Almost all of NBC's entire on-air talent, including Today co-hosts Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, have lodged there during the Games.
"It's incredible," says Ted Robinson, who has been handling baseball duties for NBC and its cable offshoots. "It's like the Olympic village of broadcasters. I'll hang out in the lobby and strike up conversations with Doug Collins or Pat O'Brien or Chris Marlowe. But Katie and Matt are the ones who get mobbed here. Their show comes on at one a.m. on Australian television."
Resolutely, if not spitefully, NBC continues to shamelessly tug at our heartstrings. Tuesday night, within the first 20 minutes of its primetime broadcast, the Peacock aired not one but two segments about athletes whose lives have been touched by cancer. The first focused on Australian road cyclist Anna Wilson, whose father died of skin cancer when she was 11. The second was on American Lance Armstrong, whose battle with testicular cancer has been well-documented.
Frankly, these features are making me feel a little queasy. Nauseous. A tad Quigley Down Under. If you've ever seen The Simpsons episode in which Bart becomes a news reporter and scores big with his saccharin "Bart's People" segments, then you feel my pain.
Now, worst of all, when NBC does run a non-contrived segment, it has less impact because of its melodramatic forebears. On its after-hours telecast early Wednesday morning (when Bob Costas & Co. shift into underground radio mode and seem to have a lot more fun), NBC aired a wrenching piece about former Hungarian water polo player Ervin Zador.
Like all the pieces I've seen, it was very professional and seemed, at least in a cinematographic sense, to be unduly influenced by Gladiator (doesn't anyone believe in natural light any more?). But there was no denying that Zador's tale, which drew parallels between the 1956 Hungarian Revolt and Hungary's water polo match against the Soviet Union, was dramatic, captivating and, best of all, unique.
Overall, though, NBC's coverage has been fantastic. Costas is peerless, Hannah Storm is a treat and the broadcasters at the events are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. My personal favorite thus far has been Rowdy Gaines, whose call of Gary Hall Jr.'s and Anthony Ervin's gold-medal race ("It's a tie! It's a tie!") was goosebump-worthy, even on tape delay.
Déjà Vu Award: On Tuesday night NBC aired another segment about Dream Team center Alonzo Mourning, who circled the globe to be with his wife during the birth of their daughter last Saturday. It's a nice tale, and 'Zo seems like a genuinely cool dude and family man, but once was enough.
The only aspect that the sequel, aired during the after-hours telecast, added was Mourning's triumphant return to Sydney. Kudos to Craig Sager, who saw Mourning off like a war hero and later welcomed him back; and to the NBC cameraman who traipsed the globe alongside 'Zo. But let's put this baby to bed.
Check back Friday for another installment of The Channel Guy. The opinions
expressed here are solely those of the writer.