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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympics Lite

After a wildly successful day at the annual family yard sale, we kicked back last night and through half-opened eyes watched the Olympics. Well, not exactly -- we watched part of the part of the Olympics that they show on NBC.

TV coverage has come a long way since Roone Arledge and the boys hung out hour after boring hour at the games with the cameras rolling, catching everything or nothing as it happened. Nowadays the mainstream network presentation is a tightly edited mini-documentary series about the U.S. teams. No other country's athletes matter much, except as a foil for the Yankees. The poor Hungarian guy who took the silver in the 400-meter medley, placing between the American beauty boy and the other American contestant? He might as well have been Uncle Fester. Actually, he looked a little bit like Fester. The point is, this is a highly selective and obviously biased coverage of the games. Ain't that America.

The results of the actual events are almost secondary. The whole human-interest-story thing is what these shows are about. The U.S. swimmer guy was raised by a devoted single mom. The U.S. swimmer gal is really old to be an Olympian, and a new mom herself. George Bush likes the U.S. women's beach volleyball players in the skimpy bikinis. Henry Kissinger was there, sitting next to his colleague Radovan Karadzic. And now a word from Michelob -- owned by an outfit in Belgium these days, but expect no coverage of the Belgian teams. In a rare show of ecumenism, NBC actually interviewed an Australian woman swimmer for a minute or so after her victory -- mostly because she speaks English and, well, is kinda hot. But if you're staying up late to catch a translated interview with one of the monster Chinese male gymnasts, you will be waiting forever. And while you wait, don't forget that you really, really need a Visa card, because nothing says American debt like the Chinese Olympics.

Of course, in these days of the intertubes, true fans of the real games don't have to settle for this, and many of them don't. They're finding all sorts of interesting feeds on line, many from non-U.S. outlets without the red-white-and-blue focus. Naturally, YouTube is also in on the act. NBC guard dogs are reportedly shutting unauthorized U.S.-based pages down right and left, but as the Times explained yesterday, it's a continuous game of whack-a-mole as new sites spring up faster than NBC can kill the others.

Parts of the NBC program last night were so weak as to be downright comical. Anchor Bob Costas spent about 20 seconds non-covering the story of the American visitors who were murdered at the Olympics. He informed the audience the American volleyball coach won't be coaching the next game because, well, one of his inlaws was murdered in Beijing the other day, and another inlaw gravely wounded. End of story. "We'll be back with more bikini volleyball after this message." Poor Jim McKay is already rolling in his grave.

Costas's deal with the devil must have run out, because his eternally youthful looks are beginning to fade noticeably. The nostrils keep getting bigger, and overall his face is starting to take on that Dick Clark look from the 1980's. Alas, I know the feeling. And what is that thing on top of his head? It looks like something off Trent Lott's dresser.

Anyway, there's lots more Olympics to come. Good luck finding it.

Comments (17)

I seldom watch the NBC coverage for exactly the reasons you describe. I prefer, you know, SPORTS. I'm a fan of TiVoing the overnight stuff on the lesser cable channels and blitzing through it when I get a chance the next day. They're lesser sports (badminton, beach volleyball) and they sometimes don't even feature an American team! I also have the option of fast-forwarding through those ridiculous features. Soccer on Telemundo is also nice (no commercials).

By the way, team handball is an awesome sport. Give it a look if you can.

It is quite remarkable that just the other day watching the NBC national news there was a segment about China blocking internet access to reporters (and their own people) regarding material they deemed objectionable. The gist of the segment was that China still is a totalitarian state and relies on censorship to accomplish political goals. On the other hand we have NBC that blocks all other access to the Olympics to accomplice their financial goals. That not censorship of course, it is free enterprise.

If you have cable, many of the other events and a lot of games from other countries are on fairly continuously on MSNBC, CNBC or USA Network. Archery was entertaining. Still, watching Michael Phelps was remarkable to me and I want to see Lebron, et. al. By the way, Rudy Fernandez led Spain over Greece last night.

Unfortunately, those of us without cable (subscription to an "approved TV service provider") cannot watch live streaming video via the NBC Olympics website. Looks like "One World" is not especially inclusive as far as NBC is concerned.

What an excellent summary of the situation, Jack. Hilarious, and so complete I can't think of anything profound or witty to add to it. Thanks for making my morning!

Because I'm such a fan of swimming, I DVR'ed and watched anyway, but even with what you describe, Jack, NBC still manages to screw up:


It has always amazed me that NBC doesn't understand how desperately American TV viewers want to watch coverage of the Senegalese synchronized diving team that finishes 20th. NBC's focus on medal winners instead of also-rans in obscure sports is really puzzling.

Unfortunately, those of us without cable (subscription to an "approved TV service provider") cannot watch live streaming video via the NBC Olympics website. Looks like "One World" is not especially inclusive as far as NBC is concerned.

Actually, you can. Just install the plugin and tell it you have Comcast. It doesnt verify anything. Looks like they ask for the service provider so they show the right TV listing.

Jon, thanks for the info. I have a deep hatred for Comcast, so I'll have to decide whether to lie about being a subscriber. Also, I could risk being suspended or terminated (!) by NBC:

"b. Registration and Authentication
Should NBCOlympics choose to provide member based services or services that are only made available to certain users who meet certain criteria, when you register to use these Services or submit information for authentication, you will be required to provide certain information about yourself. Certain content, such as live and rewind video, may only be provided to members who submit information authenticating that they are a current customer of our satellite and cable partners, such as Time Warner Cable and DirectTV. You agree to provide true, accurate and complete information about yourself, and to update this information when it changes. If you provide any information that is untrue or inaccurate, not current, or incomplete, or if NBCOlympics suspects that your information is untrue or inaccurate, not current, or incomplete, NBCOlympics may, in its sole discretion, suspend or terminate your membership and/or access to certain content or features and refuse current or future access to the Service. Any personal information supplied hereunder will be subject to the terms of our privacy policy. Children under the age of 13 may not register with the Service. The Service is currently provided for free. NBCOlympics reserves the right to change the nature of this relationship at any time."

That's interesting. I didnt have to "sign up" for anything. All I did was install plugin and say I was a Comcast subcriber (I am).
But that was it, no names, logins, anything.

This is good though:

The Service is currently provided for free. NBCOlympics reserves the right to change the nature of this relationship at any time.

Thats just stupid. It should be free. Particularly with all the ads we are subjected to. We shouldnt have to pay for extra services to see our olympic team compete.

Jack, I've heard these complaints -- that US network coverage of the Olympics is Amerocentric, that it is too commercialized -- for as long as I can remember. I don't think there was a golden age when coverage was any better than today.

In fact, I would say today's coverage is far better than in the past. Sure, if you just watch NBC, you won't get much. But add in MSNBC, USA, and all the other NBC affiliate networks and you get a promise of 3,600 hours of coverage. I watched live coverage of cycling road races on NBC's web site, and I am sure you can find much more.

Part of your complaint is not with NBC but with us: Americans really are most interested in American athletes. Similarly, go look on line at Canadian coverage of the Olympics -- the Americans are hardly mentioned. I am sure the same is true for any other country. And as for commercials, I'd rather "pay" for my coverage with ads than government subsidies. If you think NBC has screwed things up, just imagine what the government would do!

And if you didn't think Costas spent enough time on the murder of an American in Beijing -- something that seemed to me to be covered endlessly -- remember that few facts are yet available, probably due to Chinese efforts to play it down. We may never find out what really happened, that's hardly Bob Costas' fault.

Thanks--I think--for the critique of television coverage of the Olympics. I haven't been watching. I planted some seed last week and have been busy watching the grass grow!

LOL a good read that made my morning! Now I need to open the local paper and look for news that's not 2-3 days old (by intertube standards).

Coffee? Straight dark roast.
Breakfast? Focaccia bread made late last night.
TV? Wife(red wines and macchiatos)has her NASCAR on of course. Some road course today I guess. ZZZzz

I noticed that yesterday morning NBC was showing a graphic in the upper corner that said "LIVE 10:50 EST" when it was 10:50am here. The primetime coverage simply said "LIVE" despite that fact that the coverage was still on a 3 hour delay. Liars.

Google News has an “Olympics” tab, but to get it you have to scroll to the bottom of the page under the international versions and click “UK” or “Canada English”.


There you will see two nifty Google gadgets on the right, “Olympic Medals” and “Olympic Events”. You can then switch back to the “U.S.” version and you will still see the Olympics tab.

When you leave Google News and return to it, the Olympics tab disappears!

I like this site for coverage:


Jack: Coverage could be LOTS worse than what you have mentioned. I frankly see little point in watching an hour of fencing that involves two Hungarians. Or seeing the Indian handball team's warm ups. Have you ever been to an Olympic Games for a week or more? I have, and every four years the summer games become even more immense and sweeping in the scope of sports they cover. I've attended the 1976, 1984 and 1996 Olympics, and they get bigger every time. Even if you are actually there, it is impossible to see more than two major events every day due to schedules and venue locations. Also, there is nothing wrong with NBC's focus on the medal events. The tickets to medal events are the ones in most demand and go quickly. It's also WAY MORE INTERESTING to attend the medal round of the Track & Field Relay Events than say the canoe preliminaries. We decided to pass on this year's games for lots of reasons; but will attend the summer games in London in 2112.

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