NBC Doesn't Quite Step Up to Podium
Before NBC puts away the cameras and videotape machines to be unloaded in London for the Summer Games two years hence, let's take a moment to assess what we learned from Vancouver:
*It would be inaccurate to say that NBC stepped over Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili to present the happy, happy, joy, joy of the Olympics, but it's not that far off.
Once Bob Costas announced that the network would no longer show the horrific footage of Kumaritashvili's body leaving the track and colliding with an unpadded steel support pole, it seemed it gave NBC permission to ignore his death, and the ramifications from it.
That International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and Josef Fendt, the head of the International Luge Federation didn't appear with Costas in prime time to explain what happened and why is inexcusable. The more than $800 million NBC paid to the IOC for telecast rights gave it the responsibility to act as more as silent partner.
Just as inexplicable was NBC's decision not to forgo some of its Canadian travel log pieces for a solid 10-15 minute piece reported by, say, Tom Brokaw, or one of the network's top reporters, in Kumaritashvili's hometown, telling the American audience who this 21-year-old was.
Athletes aren't supposed to die in competition. When they do, it's up to someone to explain what happened. NBC had the best opportunity to do so and failed miserably.
*Jim Lampley, a solid part of NBC's Olympic anchor rotation in games past, was sorely missed in Vancouver. Lampley, who could not be reached for comment, was a cool, avuncular figure hosting daytime and overnight shows. His absence in Vancouver opened the door for Al Michaels to host daytime shows.
Frankly, Michaels seemed uncomfortable sitting in a studio, chatting up reporters and athletes. He appeared much more at ease at venues, a la at the hockey site in the second week.
Dick Enberg was used in Atlanta in 1996.
By contrast, Mary Carillo, who anchored late night coverage, was natural and refreshing on a show that didn't have the impact it does during other Olympics because with Vancouver in the Pacific time zone, most events were able to be shown live in the East and in the Central time zones.
*At the venues, Mike Emrick, Kenny Albert and the rest of the hockey crew turned in terrific performances, while Dan Hicks and Dan Jansen were solid on the speed skating calls, as were Ted Robinson and Andy Gabel on short track.
Veteran Tim Ryan headed up a good team on the Alpine skiing events, though it was tough to know how much of what he, Todd Brooker and Christin Cooper were calling wasn't voiced over later in the day after the events were over, since most of skiing was taped and packaged for prime-time.
*The less said about figure skating, the centerpiece of NBC's coverage, the better. The activity too closely resembles a frozen version of "Dancing with the Stars" to be taken seriously, yet it will likely strangle the enjoyment out of Olympic telecasts for years to come, because it alone among the Winter Games lineup brings non-sports fans to the set.
*Really, NBC? Did you have to cut out early from the closing ceremonies Sunday for "The Marriage Ref" to start on time? Was America really that starved for mediocre comedy, even if it came from the mind of Jerry Seinfeld?
The Road Ahead
The cauldron in Vancouver was barely extinguished before folks began to make assumptions about what NBC's numbers will mean going forward.
One of those is the NHL's telecasts on NBC and Versus will get a healthy bump of viewership from the popularity of Olympic hockey, especially from the gold medal game, which earned an impressive 15.2 rating and was seen by more than 27 million viewers, the most for a hockey game in this country since the 1980 Olympic gold medal match between the U.S. and Finland.
No one in their right mind should confuse regular season hockey to the intensity of a match with an Olympic gold medal at stake played on the home ice of one of the participants. True, there should be some casual tune in, but it's doubtful that it will have much carry over beyond the first few telecasts.
And speaking of Comcast-owned Versus, it needs to resolve its differences with Direct TV over carriage and soon for the NHL to reap substantial benefits from the Olympic hockey tournament.
In the longer run, there's still the matter of who will carry the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia and the 2016 Summer Olympics from Rio de Janeiro. They will almost certainly be sold as a package, but that assumes that some American network or cable outlet wants them.
According to the Sports Business Journal, only executives from ESPN and Turner made the trek to Vancouver to court IOC officials, who appear to be torn over whether to push for bids before the NCAA decides to opt out of its men's basketball tournament contract with CBS, or to wait until the economy shows stronger signs of recovery.
With a nearly 25 year string of virtually uninterrupted Olympic broadcasts (save for CBS' three winter games presentations in the 1990's), NBC has the established contacts with the IOC, but may be gun shy of re-upping given that it estimates a more than $200 million loss of the $800 million it paid for Vancouver.
It would be a shock if the IOC got anywhere close to Vancouver money for the 2014 Games, since Sochi is eight hours ahead of the East Coast. That means very little of the Games will be live in the United States. Also, production costs in Sochi will likely be significantly higher than in Vancouver, another major factor to consider when deciding to plunk down hundreds of millions of dollars just for the rights to show something.
What do the chairman of NBC Sports and Carly Simon have in common? The two of them are apparently the only people on the planet who know the answer to a secret that has been closely guarded for almost 40 years.
At the core of this secret is Simon's song "You're So Vain." The tune, where Simon shares vocals with Mick Jagger, is a pointed barb at a narcissist who "probably thinks this song is about you."
Since its 1972 release, listeners have speculated as to whom the target is, and Simon, in a recent acoustic remake, whispered the name David, leading some to speculate that she was referencing David Geffen, the entertainment impresario who was her producer at that time.
To date, however, Simon has only divulged the name to one person and that would be Dick Ebersol, the aforementioned head of NBC Sports.
Ebersol paid $50,000 seven years ago in a charity auction to learn the name from Simon, and he has sworn never to tell. Ebersol did, however, call the New York Post recently to tell its Page Six gossip writers that Geffen is not the subject of the song.
If NBC gets the rights to the 2014 Winter Games, maybe Ebersol could entice Simon to reveal the name in the midst of the ice dancing finals. That might make it worth watching.