Day One: Al Trautwig, "Mr. Overdramatic"
Because gymnastics is a marquee event for NBC, I suppose we can't stop Al "Mr. Overdramatic" Trautwig, but we can try to contain him.
Trautwig is the NBC announcer most likely not to let the action do the talking during the Olympics, but rather to let the talking do the talking. Everything is amped up with Al, always shot through with the dramatic drama of human athletic performance and achievement and striving. Hey, could you tone it down, Al?
It's just the preliminaries of the semis or something or other of the men's competition and Al sounds as if he's narrating the Cuban Missile Crisis. Trautwig's live calls (at least I think they're live; once again, NBC isn't saying exactly what's what with the time difference) on the flipping and tumbling are hard enough to take, but NBC also made the mistake of having Al narrate one of its predictable up-close-and-personal features.
This one was about the pressure facing the Chinese men's gymnastics team to win the gold. Did NBC say there was pressure on the team? Oh, yes, about six or eight times (the word was even spelled out on the mat, just in case you didn't get it).
In case you still didn't get it, our man Al laid it on just a little thicker. "Pick your measure of pressure and multiply it by one point three billion," he said. Al was also the author of this gem: "If China spells history with one country with a capital H, it's with Japan." I won't try to understand that one; I'll just wait for the interpreter.
Loved it: NBC's camera and production work at the swimming pool is superb.
The lane-assignment graphic is old news -- at least one and possibly two Olympics old -- as is the moving green world-record pace bar. But combining it all with underwater shots and Rowdy Gaines's enthusiastic and knowledgeable commentary makes Michael Phelps's and Dara Torres's heroics all the more enjoyable.
NBC, incidentally, is clearly building up Phelps's tearful mom, Debbie, as a big sentimental character (what, Phelps's pursuit of eight gold medals isn't enough drama?). Okay so far, NBC, but don't press your luck.
And the early Olympic commercial to beat: GE's fire-breathing-dragon ad (CGI dragon ignites bales of straw laid on by Chinese peasant kids, creating steam heat for the family's hot tub). An absurd way to make some kind of point about alternative energy. And a wonderful and whimsical way, too. . .
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