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