We spend our weekend camped out in front of the TV so's that you can actually get outside. Notes and observations for Olympic Central at Elisberg Industries.
There is no question in my mind that the most pissed-off person in Sochi is Bob Costas. Bob Costas loves sports, loves the Olympics. One of the reasons he stayed at NBC, which for a while lost NFL football and dropped baseball (which Costas dearly loves) is because of the Olympics. (Also, a sense of loyalty, he said.) So, it must be killing him to not be able to host, all because of an eye infection.
I was a little sorry they had Meredith Vieria fill in on Friday. Not that she's a woman -- I'd have loved to have seen Mary Carillo, who has occasionally hosted the late night Olympic show in the past, and is terrific. It's that she doesn't come across as having any gravitas with sports. And if the Olympics are anything, it's sensory overload of sports. She was okay -- she did a very respectable job interviewing Noelle Pikus-Pace at the end (though I suspect a rock could have done at least a fair job interviewing the effusive, overjoyed, ebullient slider). But I hope they get someone to fill in who is sports. This is the Olympics, for goodness sake. Actually, more than anything, I hope they get Bob Costas back.
A slight digression, but it relates. I worked with Bob Costas on a movie, back in my ne'er-do-well days when I was a unit publicist. It was for the movie BASEketball. The film didn't work (though oddly it's better in it's edited-for-TV version, where they take out the crudity which got in the way of the sweet parody), but it was one of my most-fun work experiences ever. Costas spent a few days on the film, and I got to talk with him quite a bit. And he's very much like he comes across on TV. Low-key, personable, and very decent. He was game for anything, even making fun of himself. He's a pretty religious guy, but he never pushed it on the filmmakers, asking them to tone things down. He said that his religion is personal, and he doesn't expect others to live his way just because he does. There was only one thing he asked changed -- there was a crass joke that had to do with a wheel chair, and he had a family member who was wheel chair-bound, and the joke made him feel uncomfortable, even though it wasn't anything he did in the film. He didn't insist on the change, but just asked. The filmmakers were more than happy to accede to such a good guy. My favorite memory of him, though, was when I had to call him at home -- that's where his office was, in St. Louis, so he could be with his family and not make them move. He commuted to New York or wherever he was needed. We had a nice talk, and when I asked if he could send me his biography, which I needed for the press kit, he said it would have to wait until the next week when his secretary got back. "I'm technologically incompetent," he said, and didn't know how to use the fax machine! Good guy.
I hope you had a chance to record the U.S.-Russia men's hockey game that started at 4 AM (Los Angeles time) as I suggested. It was spectacular. The playing was aggressive, and the score was 2-2 with 4-1/2 minutes left -- when Russia scored the go-ahead goal. But it was disallowed when replays showed that the net had slipped off its moorings by two inches. This would have been okay in the NHL, but is against international rules. The game ended in a tie, which meant a 5-minute overtime. And that ended in a tie. Which meant a three-goal shootout. And THAT ended in a tie. When meant a goal-by-goal sudden death shootout. And it finally ended after eight rounds with the U.S. winning an a goal by T.J. Oshie, of the Los Angeles Kings. The game was electric, and the great Doc Emrick again made it all the better with his phenomenal play-by-play announcing. By the way, for all the hype by the studio hosts about how this was the big game, in part because of the Miracle on Ice in 1980 (they did a nice little feature on it, and a live interview with announcer Al Michaels), in fairness I don't think that's the case. I think the Big Match-up is Russia vs. Canada. Russia is not only the host country, but they bleed hockey (indeed, commentator Vladmidar Pozner has said that if Russia wins the Gold Medal in hockey, the country will consider the Olympics a success., whatever else happens). And not only is hockey Canada's national sport, but they're the defending Gold Medalists. Still, this was a huge game. And lived up to expectations.
By the way, an Olympic BobTip: If you're recording a live contest (rather than, say, just a scheduled programming block), be sure to add some time on to the end, or record the following show. Live games can, of course, run long. And trust me, it would have been SO HORRIBLE if I wasn't recording the following broadcast and had the hockey game stop with two minutes to go in the overtime...!!
Here's one reason I actually watch -- and like -- the cross country skiing. This is after the final turn of the women's 4x5000 meter relay race. They've been skating 20,000 meters (about 12 miles) for 52 minutes, the finish line is just yards ahead, and this is what you get --
Sweden won, by the way. Charlotte Kalla started her final leg 25 seconds behind, and with her country's king and queen in attendance, picked up the distance. Finland and Germany got Silver and Bronze. The huge upset, though, was Norway, which hadn't lost a relay since 2009, and they didn't even get a medal, finishing fifth.
There was another great featurette by Jimmy Roberts, about short-track skater Emily Scott, who's gone through terrible problems in her life. (For starters, her mother and half-sister were sent to prison for meth amphetamine manufacturing and trafficking. Her infant brother died when she was 15.) She missed out at the Olympic trials four years ago, and then lost almost all her funding. But thanks to being told about a website, GoFundMe.com, she was able to to get to the Olympics, and through public fundraising got the money for her father (her best friend), Craig, to the games. But even that wasn't easy -- the journey took him 86 hours (!) -- 3-1/2 days -- with visa problems and more, to get to Sochi. He missed her first race but finally arrived to see her compete (and continues to compete, making today to the 1500 finals).
Speaking of skating, Apollo Ohno has done a very good job as a short track analyst. Though he had one turn of the phrase, using the sport's lingo, that wasn't as well-considered as he might have subsequently wished. In describing skaters using those ahead to draft, he described it as how "Those in front are breaking wind for the other skaters."
Later in the day, to put a perspective on the U.S-Russian hockey game that money, Tom Brokaw had his own featurette -- a very long and absolutely terrific one about U.S.-Russian rivalry far beyond just Olympic competition and how it fueled politics and, in particular, pushed the space race. The story includes wonderful present-day interviews with former astronauts and cosmonauts and becomes deeply touching and moving as the rivalry becomes detente and then joint effort in Apollo-Soyuz space missions.
(These featurettes, plus those by Mary Carrillo, are generally wonderful, though they usually are shown only during the day -- one more reason to vegetate in front of the TV. Hopefully some will get on in primetime, or at the very least show up on YouTube. I haven't found them on the NBCOlympics.com site, where they should be, though in fairness I haven't looked closely because I don't want to accidentally see results.)
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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