Glad You Asked, NBC

It's been a very watchable Olympics. Keen competition, gorgeous pictures, surprising and stirring moments. These Games remind me that two weeks of the Summer Olympics are better than any 20 reality shows, and most seasons of every other kind of TV program.

Which, of course, is why I have to fix them (I'm a man; I can't help it). Herewith is my first list of the ways NBC could improve its coverage (I'll have another list later in the week). And you're welcome, NBC; I'll send you my bill:

1. Enough with the trampoline and synchronized this-n'-that in primetime. God invented cable so we wouldn't have to watch trampoline and synchronized diving; those sports will do just fine on USA or CNBC. What, people don't want to see basketball in primetime? With NBA superstars? Yes, they do. Every game. Ditto for much of the (non-beach) volleyball, water polo and softball. I know you have research that says otherwise, NBC. I spit on your research.

2. And while you're at it, show it live. NBC has paid so much money to the IOC that it could probably get the IOC to change the weather if it wanted to. NBC can surely get the IOC to change the schedule in order to show certain events live and in primetime. It's been done with swimming and gymnastics. Now do it with track. As I've whined previously, NBC couldn't be bothered to go live on the 100 meters -- the most widely-anticipated track event (maybe the most widely-anticipated event, period). I've been forced to place myself in a media-free cocoon for unmercifully long periods. I've tried not to look at the results, really, I have. But I can't help myself; I've fallen off the wagon repeatedly. Help me help myself, NBC. Show it to us as it happens.

3. Disallow, on grounds of simple decency and common sense, any advertisers who insist on airing ads that use Olympic-themed puns. "Why settle for the silver when you can go for the gold?" asks one of the faux Olympians in a McDonald's spot, referring to a golden-hued McChicken sandwich. Here's my question: Why use a mediocre commercial when you could afford much better, McD's?

4. Stop interviewing athletes seconds after they finish their events. I realize this may be the only time they're available, what with being hustled off the track or away from the pool, but it's dumb. Athletes aren't the world's most articulate people to begin with, and they aren't helped by having to collect their thoughts moments after pushing mind and body to the limit. As is, you get this:

Interviewer: How'd you feel out there?
Interviewee: I...(huff, puff)...felt...(huff, puff)...good (faint).
Interviewer: Okay. Good luck.

5. Stop asking athletes, "How'd you feel out there?" The question, and its many variants, is lazy; the answers are almost always boring (Good. Bad. Tired). How about asking a question that might elicit something more insightful, or just funny? Ask him about his strategy. Or his opponents'. Or about his motivation and training. Ask him what he had for breakfast, how he feels about a capital gains tax cut or about his favorite novel -- anything but "How'd you feel?" (Kidding aside: At the end of his amazing run, when Michael Phelps had absolutely nothing left to say, I was hoping someone might ask him the obvious question: "Michael, are you tired?").

6. Demand uniform equivalency in beach volleyball. Why must the women reveal maximum acres of skin but not the men? More than a few of my female colleagues say they wouldn't complain if the men played shirtless (I'll leave it to others to debate how the bottom half should be attired). And if the organizers are going to have beach volleyball cheerleaders in skimpy bikinis, it's only fair to ask for equal time. You know what that means, right? Yep. Hello, Chippendale's.

* * *

Two great moments from the past two nights, illustrating the glorious highs and lows of Olympic competition:

-- After winning the gold medal in the men's vault Monday night, Leszek Blanik of Poland celebrated by running over to his gym bag and whipping out...a big photograph of his infant son! Lovely. And sure beats another flag dance.

-- Have you ever seen anything so heartbreaking (athletically speaking) as the sequence of events in the women's 100-meter hurdle final? American Lolo Jones was crushing the field, practically sailing, Usain Bolt-like, to a gold medal. And then she nicked the ninth hurdle, which threw her off balance and destroyed her certain victory. The shots of Jones prostrate and in tears on the track were painful enough, but the reaction shot of her mother and sister in the stands was practically unbearable. First nervous excitement, then ecstasy, then shock and finally horror. Like a tragic opera, unfolding in less than 13 seconds.

* * *

Shameless self-promotion: For more on NBC's coverage, check this out.

By Paul Farhi  |  August 20, 2008; 3:19 AM ET
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Comments

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I thought shameless self-promotion was what the Olympics were all about.

More and different things should be on prime-time coverage. I don't mind if they show 5 minutes of trampoline to show you it's there, and if you're interested, turn to one of the 7 or 8 other channels showing that.

Though softball shouldn't be on the big network, it's just fine in its entirety on another channel like USA or Universal. The long team sports (soccer, basketball, too) really do belong on those channels so they can be seen not as a highlight reel but as a whole game. MSNBC or whatever frequently cuts away from soccer for commercials, while the Olympic soccer channel does not. The basketball channel is also great complete coverage.

Events should be live whenever possible, and there's no harm in showing a sprinting final live at 8AM or whatever and then showing it tape-delayed during the prime time coverage for those that have missed it. They don't even need to show it on the mother network, but can shuffle that to something like We or USA.

But I swear there's been more live coverage during this Olympics than in Atlanta.

Posted by: Kim | August 20, 2008 10:52 AM

Dare I even say it, but how about some live coverage of something (read: ANYTHING) on the west coast. Great for NBC that it got events to broadcast live on the east coast in primetime, but why tape delay them to the west coast?

Posted by: Number4545 | August 20, 2008 11:11 AM

Number 4545 is absolutely right! I haven't watched much of the games out here in California, because I can check ESPN for the real time scores. Why bother to watch a taped Bob Costas hyping an event which ran live 3 hours ago? It's insulting, frankly. Just put the events on live.

Posted by: babsy1 | August 20, 2008 11:40 AM

I have one suggestion for the Post...PLEASE STOP PLASTERING THE RESULTS ON THE FRONT PAGE LIKE ITS A LIFE SHATTERING BREAKING STORY!!! Is it too much to ask that there just be a link for the results so that those who want to catch the entire performance can do so without being forewarned? It's like being told what your Birthday gift is before you ever get to open it! I will now ban the Post for the rest of the week. Thank you and carry on.

Posted by: DarnYou | August 20, 2008 12:17 PM

Yes, more variety in prime time. It doesn't need to be all swimming, gymnastics, diving, track, beach volleyball. Highlights at least of other sports.

Live and then replayed in prime time.

Perhaps the occasional medal ceremony for a country other than the US?

Posted by: ah | August 20, 2008 2:01 PM

I do want to see a lot more of other sports, but I can live with highlights of basketball in prime time--with the complete games shown on cable. We see plenty of basketball the rest of the year--the Olympics is for the sports we never see anytime else.

Posted by: Fingerman | August 20, 2008 2:18 PM

I couldn't agree with you more on points two through six, but I can watch basketball anytime. I watch the Olympics specifically for the oddball stuff that I have to wait four whole years to see. Less volleyball, more synchronized swimming! Any sport where a suit is banned because it has lights on it is precisely what I'm tuning in to see.

Posted by: Laurie | August 20, 2008 4:37 PM

Is NBC worse than the communist country that is hosting this shameless olympics? Why are they showing gymnastics at 11:30pm after advertising about them at 8pm. Are american as stupid as NBC think they are? I don't know. I stopped watching it and went to sleep after I saw the pattern. I hope it was worth it for those who stayed up.

Posted by: Whats worse | August 20, 2008 6:44 PM

Well, globalization, globalization, Chinese TV did the same interview with chinese athletes right after the games; and Chinese newspaper people did the exact same compalaining abouth these boring / useless interviews, just as Paul, as I read in yesterday's Global Times, a chinese newspaper.

Posted by: Chinese Translator | August 20, 2008 11:25 PM

Totally agree with points 4 and 5. I also hated questions relating to Michael Phelps - like after the relays, they asked the other swimmers (Piersol, Lezak, et al) about Phelps winning 8 golds. They (the relay team) just won gold and all the interviewer wants to talk about is Phelps. They even asked Kobe and Lebron about Phelps' golds too. What does NBC expect them to say other than "it's an amazing feat, etc"? Not everything has to be about Phelps.

As for showing the track/field events live, I read that NBC requested the schedule change for swimming, gymnastics and track/field so that they could air it during primetime. The IOC obliged on swimming and gymnastics, but wouldn't on track.

Posted by: JC | August 20, 2008 11:49 PM

There are 34 sports at the Olympics and most will NEVER be seen on NBC. Trampoline has got to be the biggest waste of airtime so far. While sports like shooting, archery and fencing may not be much to watch, when else might they even be on TV? Is it too much to ask that we get maybe 15-20 minutes each night of "non-prime" sports?

I have a personal interest in both rowing and synchronized swimming, but was able to track them down with a little effort. I would really like to see what team handball is and would not mind watching sports like equestrian, field hockey or wrestling.

Posted by: SapphicHokieMom | August 21, 2008 9:25 AM

I completely disagree with the point #1. I do not want to watch how the U.S. does in the sports it dominates against the miserable foreign teams that it blows away, when I can watch the better games for months, every year, in the domestic competitions - pro or amateur. And I certainly do not want to watch so many matches of beach volleyball just because it has tall, lanky women in bikinis running on sands that reminds me of mud wrestling matches. I wanna see more varieties of different sports played by some of the best in the world that are more refreshing, more interesting, and no less dramatic to watch than the familiar sports popular in the U.S. It's the Olympics, not NBA or MLB Finals.

Posted by: Matrixman | August 22, 2008 2:15 PM

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