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.