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Olympic disappointment

POSTED February 19, 2010 10:56 p.m.
As a red-blooded American, I have to say that I absolutely love the Olympics. There are few things in life better than watching America’s finest crush our national enemies, to see them driven before us, and to hear the lamentation of their women.  
At least, that’s what Conan the Barbarian told me.
But if you’ll allow me to step down from my nationalist soapbox for a moment, I have noticed just one major issue with this year’s games. Aside from the krauts’ early success against our national competitors, of course.
NBC is, quite frankly, making it impossible to watch the games. If you consider the games to be about sporting contests, that is.
I first realized there was an issue when I tuned in to what was labeled “Winter Olympics” on my TV guide, only to see a 15-minute feature on polar bears.
Sure, polar bears are interesting. I frequently tune in to watch some polar bears on Animal Planet.
But polar bears do not compete in downhill alpine skiing, last I checked. They don’t participate in ice hockey. They aren’t figure skaters, and they certainly aren’t curlers.
The Olympics are about athletic competition. They’re about finding the world’s greatest athlete in various semi-obscure sports.
While Canada is a beautiful country, I don’t tune in to the Olympics for travelogues. I have the Travel Channel for that.
But, for some reason, whenever I click over to NBC I rarely see a full event’s worth of competition. I see profiles of highly ranked American competitors. I see the full runs for first, second, and — if I’m lucky — third place. And, usually, I see all of the Americans, despite their successes or failures.
NBC rushes through the sporting coverage, ignoring the vast majority of competitors, simply to make more time for silly little puff pieces.
I understand the Venezuelan luger probably won’t win. I get that the Zimbabwean skier is not taking home the gold.
But sports are interesting only when shown unedited. A football game has boring plays, sure, but it makes the big plays more interesting. A baseball game’s strikeouts make the homeruns more meaningful. SportsCenter — like NBC’s Olympics coverage — lacks drama, because you only see the highlights.
The problem is that the Olympics aren’t treated as sport. They’re treated as spectacle.
Many of my media cohorts are complaining that the main issue with NBC’s Olympic coverage is that the games are not broadcast live. While that is an entirely valid concern, it’s not the heart of the issue with this year’s games.
Yes, it is a shame to see tape-delayed games that take place in our own time zone when we often already know the results. But live skiing at 2 p.m. would not draw many viewers and, as NBC is paying $2 billion for the US broadcasting rights this year, it’s in their best interest to show events in primetime.
The obvious solution for NBC — showing all of the uncut, live events on their sister stations USA, MSNBC, CNBC, Universal HD, and Universal Sports while showing a highlight clips show on NBC in primetime — seems to be ignored by the Peacock network. But even if this tact were to be followed it wouldn’t make an ounce of difference for the majority of Americans who opt to watch in primetime if NBC doesn’t revamp their tape-delayed coverage.
The sheer insanity of NBC executives can be best highlighted on the occasion when an American wins gold. This is the sort of thing that every other American wants to see.
But NBC drags out the proceedings as long as possible. You can be sure that gold medal runs won’t air until 11:45 p.m. — long after most sane folks would like to go to sleep.
And staying awake while NBC doles out the actual sporting event in bits and pieces — a run, an ad break, a 10 minute puff piece, then another run from a separate sport — is no small task.
Until NBC realizes that we red-blooded Americans watch the Olympics to see sport contested at its highest levels — not to listen to talking heads jabber — viewers in this country will be left wanting.
To contact Alex Cantatore, perform a triple lutz and then scratch your message into the ice sheet with your toe pick. If you’re lucky, NBC will air your performance and he will see it.

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