As I've said, I vegetate during the Olympics. I try to avoid setting up meetings during the two weeks, in fact I do the best I can to find reasons to not even go out, though alas sometimes life rears its ugly head and it can't be avoided. One of the great technological advances in recent years is The Many Networks of NBC, whereby the Olympics are broadcast not just on the Mother Ship during primetime but throughout the entire day across maybe half a dozen different company stations. I even put my Olympics icon on my computer's desktop to click in the morning and play the Olympics Theme, a fine way to start the day. (That would be "Bugler's Dream," written by Leo Arnaud. So, now you know and can impress people at dinner parties.) And so it all begins now.
And here's the proof -- or rather unproof. The clock is ticking for the competition to begin this morning, so I'm typing this straight off, without proofing. Sorry in advance for the gaffes...
Last night, was the kick-off with the Opening Ceremonies. And...I thought they were fine. Some was deeply impressive, very artistic and technologically stunning. And some seemed a bit of a jumble. Usually, the artistic director tries to cobble a pseudo-story on top of the goings-on. and though it's usually paper thin, there's an effort at structure. This had that, too, but...just sort of. It all seemed more random than usual. And what was going on, when not deeply impressively, very artistic and technology stunning was...a bit of a jumble.
I understand that Giselle is a incredibly-proud export. And I'm all for a gorgeous woman sashaying across a stage. And there was a sense of dramatic artistry to have a lone woman walk through otherwise dark nothingness. But other than wanting to show her off, I'm not quite sure what the point was in the middle of the extravaganza, other than maybe "Hey, folks, this is the the Girl from Ipanema." And she sashayed and sashayed and sashayed and...well, that was sure a long long long long long walk. Intriguing television, to be sure, though not always well-thought out.
And I know that the Olympics love to highlight little kiddies as the Youth of Today and the Athletes of Tomorrow, even though the Olympics aren't really about the Youth of Today or the Athletes of Tomorrow, but the Athletes of Today, though I understand the point, and fine. It just gets a bit overdone, and having a seven-year-old kid dancing around on a podium was sweet in the kind of way it's sweet when you go to a dinner party, and the hosts bring out their child and say, "Show everyone how you can dance, honey," and it's adorable for about 48 seconds, but then you start waiting for the hors d'oeuvres to be brought up.
And that sort of twisting and spinning gyroscope was spectacular, but then it went on and on and on. And eventually, yeah, we got it, it's an amazing spinning gyroscope.
And there was more that sort of jumbled around, but basically it was fine. And at times tremendous.
I did particularly like Brazil's showing off their hero who they insist was the first man to fly, and sent him up and up, and then out of the stadium, flying across the lights of the city. And the running and jumping across tech-enabled "roof tops" was fascinating. And I loved how much time was spent on Climate Change, bless their hearts.
Also, I was really pleased to see the tribute to Kip Keino, who I suspect most viewers didn't have a clue of. But I remember him as one of the great long-distance runners from Kenya, winner of two gold medals and a silver medal. I think the film tribute should have included brief footage of him running in the Olympics and winning his two golds, so that the public could have had a better sense of his legendary career. But it was still great to see him honored, if a little odd in the middle of the extravaganza.
But then, the fact that there wasn't pretty much anything said about him during the TV commentary centers on my biggest complaint about the Opening Ceremony by far. How on earth NBC could have had 10,000 Olympic athletes entering for the world to see...and not had at least ONE sports announcer there in the booth broadcasting about it is utterly beyond me. Matt Lauer at least seemed to have a sense of some perspective, but even he was a bit of a disadvantage, not being someone who actually covers sports. But Meredith Viera and Hota Kotb were clueless, limited to reading off a cheat sheet. Time was when they'd have someone like Bob Costas there, and not back in the Broadcast Center, so that he could add athletic or historical insight -- which he actually knew about, as a sportscaster -- as a particular athlete paraded in, and the camera caught him or her. Instead, we were limited to the kind of tidbits you get when a float passes by during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. That's great for a parade of floats, but the point here is that it's 10,000 people, who are the best in world, having trained for a lifetime. So, how about let's have at least one, single sports reporter there who'd be able to talk about it now and then, over the four hours you're on the air.
And from other things in the broadcast, and a special that NBC ran the night before, I have some wariness about the coming broadcast during the next to weeks.
To be clear, I don't expect Olympic coverage to be just about sports. Nor do I want it to be. It is spectacle, after all, and the attendant folderol is part of the the fun. But there's a balance, and not only does the sports have to come first -- because that's why this is being done -- but the tangential material should blend together and augment it all, not distract or detract from it.
In the past, NBC has done a pretty good job of that. And I expect them to here, as well. Though they've been getting a bit more cutesy in recent years, and what little hints I've seen this time around is giving me pause. I don't criticize them yet -- what I've seen, after all, is just intended as a sort of way to promote the Olympics to people who don't generally watch sports -- but I watch with wariness. One example: as I've written in the past, I've quite enjoyed the figure skating commentary of NBC's new team of Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, who've been so successful that they've been promoted from the minor leagues to the big time, and have started to be used more and more and more by the network in all manner of ways. So much so that they are at risk of become more of a "Brand" then accomplished analysts, and from what NBC has hinted at in the promotion, becoming mainly a gimmick. Cutesy only goes so far before credibility is impacted. Of course, if any venue is ripe for extravagance, it's Rio. But if you are too extravagant for even Rio, you're in trouble. But again, we'll see -- it too might all just be part of promoting things, and the end result could be just fine. Though when I see that apparently, ace sports journalist Ryan Seacrest doing interviews of the women's gymnastic team during the earlier special, I remain wary.
Far better is Mary Carillo, who for several years has been doing tremendous featurettes that give a fun and thoughtful perspective to the region where the Olympics are being held. Jimmy Roberts, as well, whose pieced tend to be more news-based. That appears as if it will continue here -- I just hope her airtime particularly isn't cut back for the various others NBC showed who seemed to be trying to add to the swirling circus by bringing more cotton candy than substance. Cotton candy is fine, even during an Olympics broadcast (and even welcome), but ultimately it's spun sugar and air, and there's a limit to how much you can eat before getting sick.
But happily that brings us back to the Many Networks of NBC. Because from experience, as a vegetating Olympics watcher, the Many Networks tend to cover the sports as purely sporting events throughout the day, with only occasional diversion. Moreover, they tend to be more expansive in covering competitions with all countries, not just the U.S. It's the primetime coverage that adds most of the juggling acts and USA-centric coverage. And the primetime coverage generally repeats a lot of highlights what has already been covered in full throughout the day.
I don't know yet what announcers will be assigned, but NBC has generally done a good job, as long as they stay away from the occasional analysts who come from the sport they're covering and act more like cheerleaders or promoters than commentators. My favorite has long been Teddy Atlas, who I assume will be back, a longtime boxing mug who so clearly loves and understands the details of the sport, and couldn't care less who wins as long as long as it's a good fight, and analyzes each fight -- before, during and after -- with just joy and insight that he make Olympic boxing one of the more fun events, even perhaps for people for people who are generally horrified by the brutality of the sport. (Important note: Olympic boxing is vastly different from pro boxing. Athletes wear head gear, and their gloves are painted at the end. You get points for making contact on the body with those painted areas, so there is more of a protected craft to it, rather than just trying to pummel your opponent in the head, senseless.)
Anyway, there is LOTS ahead. I look forward to it all. Well, okay, not "all." I do not look forward to the idiotic synch-r-swim of Synchronized Swimming, not matter how difficult and pretty it is. Nor the swirling of ribbons in Rhythmic Gymnastics. I'm not even as massive a fan (compared to how much attention it gets) of little girls crying about how they've wanted to do gymnastics "all my life," though I admire the skill. There's a limit to how much interminable swimming and diving I want to see, but I quite like the sports well-enough, and I fully accept it.
Ultimately, I accept it all. Even the odd, smaller events. Sometimes especially those because you don't see them anywhere else. Like whitewater canoeing. I love me some whitewater canoeing. Can't wait. And indoors Velodrome cycling.
Can't wait for any of it. In fact, I've typed enough that the morning's competition has started. Got to go. No time, as I said, for proof-reading this either.
Citius, Altius, Fortius.
Swifter, Higher, Stronger. Much more to come. Onward...
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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