Wouldn’t you be surprised if, in the middle of the World Series, the announcers cut away to do a five-minute interview with the pitcher’s parents? While the game continued?
Wouldn’t you be surprised if, in the middle of the Super Bowl, the camera left the field and did a five-minute-long interview with the quarterback’s high school friends watching the game in a bar in his hometown? Wouldn’t you be surprised if TV stations around the country decided not to show the World Series unless a local team was in it? If none of these sound strange to you, you’re gonna love NBC’s prime-time coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics because these kinds of things will happen all the time.
The Olympics celebrates the coming together of the best athletes to promote a better understanding between peoples and nations of the world. Not that you will see much of those “peoples” from other nations in prime time if the broadcast is anything like the Olympics of the past. If an American is favored to win gold in an event, you’ll see more of that sport than all the other sports combined. If an American is not favored to win an event, its chances of being on television drop dramatically. I wonder how often network executives and the IOC have this debate: Should a sport an American can’t win be considered an Olympic sport?
You’ll also learn just what it takes to win the gold. You might think it takes years of training, coaching, sacrifice and natural talent to win. But that has nothing to do with it. According to NBC, if an athlete’s wife is having a baby on or near the event, it’s better than Human Growth Hormones and steroids put together. And it’s legal. “How can he lose? His wife is having a baby!” An athlete’s chances also go up if there’s been a recent death in the family or even a life-threatening illness.
It’s sports for people who hate sports.
It comes as no surprise that there will be a lot of ads during the Olympics, but after 17 days, it will slowly occur to you that the only people who are not allowed to suck every possible dime out of the Olympics are the folks without whom the events would not be possible – the athletes.
They make such a big deal about fairness at the Olympics – the drug testing, the integrity of the judges – why isn’t it fair to give the athletes a cut of the gate, a cut of the TV money? You always hear how much football stars and basketball stars make. How much do shot put stars make? How much do high jumpers make? How much do track stars make? Fair is fair
If it’s anything like the past, during the highly rated, sports-free closing ceremony, NBC will run a highlight reel with swelling music while the announcer intones, “Who will ever forget ... this ... dramatic ... moment?” You would think he was talking about the sinking of the Titanic or the crash of the Hindenburg. Quick, how many “unforgettable” moments can you remember from four years ago? Any? One?
I love the Olympics and will probably watch every annoying night of it and a few of the complete events on cable. But please, stop making it more than it is – a bunch of healthy, young kids in the prime of their lives having the time of their lives. None of them are going to come back and say, “Gee, we had to go China and hang out with girls from the Swedish swim team while our friends got to stay home and surf MySpace. It was horrible, they’ve wrecked my life!”
If NBC would stop trying to make every single moment of the Olympics the most memorable thing that ever happened in the history of the world, I’d enjoy it a lot more. What makes a memorable moment is not that there are so many of them, but so few. I’m not going to watch the badminton and table tennis and rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming because they are so memorable. I’m watching them because it’s so out of the ordinary that it’s fun. If I want melodrama I’ll watch a soap opera, not the Olympics.
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.