Sunday, August 17, 2008

Carping About NBC

When the Olympics are on, I probably watch more sports than the entire rest of the year, or maybe the rest of the Olympic Cycle, though even so I'm a fairly casual watcher. But why bother with the Olympics at all? It really isn't that different than other pro sports. There's genuine competition and sometimes amazing physical feats, certainly, but at heart the event is about making money, with the added twist of stoking national pride.

That said, the Games are pretty much the only sporting event that captures my imagination. Maybe it's a function of growing up during certain decades. Ed Martin, a writer at, says this about watching the Games in the olden days: "...the Olympics truly were something special that only came along every four years (the Winter and Summer Games weren't separated by two years back then). They offered sights and sounds that weren't commonly available on pre-cable (and especially pre-ESPN) television: Live programming from other countries; taped coverage of athletic competitions that were not compromised by advance spoilers; sports that were usually only available on ABC's Wide World of Sports on Saturday afternoons."

Some of the sentiment lingers on. But my fondness for the Games doesn't have anything to do with NBC's current coverage. Memory's a trickster, but I can't shake the feeling that ABC knew how to televise the Games much better than NBC, which of course is offering up its usual dopey coverage this time around.

"We at NBC have heard about a Jamaican who ran really fast not long ago in these Games. As many of you in the audience who've been there on vacation might know, Jamaica's an island south of the USA. We'll see if we can get a tape of that run, but right now we're going live with an interview of Michael Phelps' chiropractor, to get more insight on his god-like performance in these Beijing Games."

I will give NBC a small amount of credit -- a micro-amount of credit -- for admitting that another country, namely China, is an important competitor in the Games. As usual the network is doing its best to characterize the Games as a "Team USA" event, with some other people also competing to make it more interesting. China's too big to ignore, however, so this time around of "gosh, golly, look at those Chinese athletes. It's a new China!"

Naturally, I'm not the only one to complain about NBC's style of coverage. But it could be worse.

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