SPORTS WATCH
NBC Going Too Far in Producing Olympic Drama
by Gus Jarvis
Aug 02, 2012 | 1738 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print

For me, the London Olympics couldn’t have come at a better time. The Colorado Rockies stink and all I can think about right now is Peyton Manning’s debut as a Denver Bronco. As usual, the Olympic games are turning out to be a great mindless escape for me, no matter what sport I find myself watching late on a Sunday afternoon or late into the evening.

Even though we are just into the first full week of competition, I’ve put in some time in front of the tube watching various swimming events, diving, water polo, gymnastics and, my favorite, beach volleyball. And while the competition in each of the events has been really fun to watch, I must say NBC has been way over the top in their coverage of the Games.

OK, NBC has always been somewhat over the top in its Olympic coverage. (The day Al Roker, tight spandex and all, tried the luge during the winter Olympics a few years back, was the tipping point, I think.) Spread across four or five NBC affiliated networks, including NBC, you can catch 24-hours of Olympic action. If you have the time, and pay for cable, NBC will give you the opportunity to catch every single second of Olympic action from the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony.

I have no problem with this. In fact, it is exactly the kind of coverage that should be put forth for a world spectacle that is the Olympic Games – winter or summer edition.

What I’m now realizing is that it’s all the extracurricular coverage I can’t stand. Do we really need Roker, Meredith Vieira, Matt Lauer clad in colorful spandex participating in a faux speed-walking competition? Do we need the tearful backstory of every Olympic athlete that comes across the screen? Do we need John McEnroe doing interviews with his weird blond hair? (OK, maybe so.)

Perhaps NBC and I got off on the wrong foot this Olympics. It was during the opening ceremony when Lauer and Vieira wouldn’t stop commenting on everything that went on during the ceremony instead of just allowing the viewers to interpret the show on their own. Yes, some commentary is necessary to help explain the story, but the two failed to strike the balance and gave us much more than we needed. It was to the point where I almost turned it off.

Once the games started, I guess I was a bit jaded. NBC’s primetime coverage, which usually isn’t live because of the time difference, is highly produced. Before a featured race or event, NBC will give you the full emotional backstory of an athlete and follow it up with their race or event. NBC gives you a reason to cheer for whomever it is they just featured. The network has done this as long as they have produced Olympic coverage and they do it well. You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, it’s nothing new. Drama at its best and we all love it.

In London, for some reason, NBC has decided to act as some sort of accountability organization as well. What I mean here is NBC gives you the tearful backstory, then the competition or event, and then the on-field (or wherever) interview with the athlete that just competed. Hopefully the interview is a cheerful “I-can’t-believe-I-just-won-gold” moment, and it often is.

There are other interviews that aren’t so heartwarming. Already in London, there have been several times where there was a disappointing loss, the athlete is obviously heartbroken, and yet, there’s Andrea Kremer sticking a microphone in his or her face asking, “How did this happen?” “Tell me how sad you are?” “Tell me about the disappointment you are feeling right now?” “How could you let your country down like you just did?” “How proud do you think your parents are right now?” “What’s your coach think of you right now?” “Only silver?” “Looking for a bridge?”

OK, maybe not that bad, but you get the idea.

For whatever reason, this year NBC has no problem building an athlete up and then severely tearing them down if they don’t perform. After failing to medal at all, let alone another gold medal, NBC, in so many words, did this to Michael Phelps after the 400 individual medley finals. His response? Not much. He was obviously disappointed. What more could he say? “I should have worked harder?” “I knew I didn’t really want the gold this time?” “God wasn’t on my side in this race?”

Give me a break.

NBC did the same thing to U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte after his slow anchor time in the men’s 400-meter relay and after he didn’t take gold in the 200-meter freestyle event. This was going to be Lochte’s Olympics. He looked like he was going to cry. He didn’t need to say anything, yet the on-the-floor NBC interviewer prodded on.

I know the Olympics are about the thrill of winning and the agony of defeat but NBC needs to chill out just a little in their post-event interviews.

The most blatant example of this was during the women’s gymnastics events earlier in the week, when the face of the U.S. team and reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber didn’t score high enough to qualify for the all-around competition. As soon as the scores were posted and it sunk in that two of her teammates would be competing in the all-around, not her, all NBC cameras zoomed in to catch her tears.

And did the tears flow? Of course they did. She was obviously devastated. At one point as the team looked like they were leaving the arena, she found a quick exit and tried to use it. One of the helpful Olympic volunteers stopped her and told her the exit was the other way, just over there past all those cameras. Wieber wanted out of the limelight for a second to collect herself, instead she found herself trapped with no escape. So over by the cameras, she stood behind as her teammates cheerfully talked about their victory while she cried in the background. It was touching drama to say the least, but I honestly felt bad for her. And then she had to field questions from the NBC reporter.

“Tell me the disappointment you feel right now…”

Sheesh. As tough as it gets.

In pro sports athletes who have just suffered a loss can usually go into the locker room, throw a tantrum and then participate in interviews after they’ve released their anger. These poor Olympic athletes, most of them kids, have to go in front of the camera without that release. I guarantee Wieber just wanted to get into a locker room, have a breakdown, cry, kick the shit out of a locker, and then come back out for an interview. NBC would rather just stick it to them for dramatic effect. They’ve gone too far, if you ask me, in a lot of these cases.

And Frankly, NBC didn’t need a post-event interview with Wieber. The cameras that caught the tears, told the story. We all knew how she felt. I’m not sure anyone, besides NBC, needed to hear her verbalize her emotions. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, I guess is the cliché to use here.

And that is maybe the cliché that’s needed to describe the entire NBC production of the Olympics. Forget all the sideshows, TV personalities, and dramatic effects and stick to putting the Olympic games on TV. Put 24-hours of non-stop coverage of actual events on TV and we’ll all be happy.

Let’s go back to the time when the Olympics were about competition and not about producing drama. If we know anything about Olympic competition, the drama will come on its own and in the right way.



gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com or @gusgusj

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