Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Olympic Blahs

Only a few hours left before the start of the NFL preseason starts, and our month long wait for anything football will end.  Being football fans, games, analysis, talking ESPN heads droning on and on about what Tim Tebow has done or how Darth Vaderish Bill Belicheck is, anything like that is better than what's on television currently.  Most shows on now serve only to lower the IQ of most Americans by several points each year.  But that's not what I want to talk about right now.

Currently, you turn on the TV and hit any NBC owned station and you'll find coverage of the 30th Summer Olympiad from London.  I love the Olympics; I really do.  The theme music is yet another work of brilliance by John Williams, and Brian Costas usually does a great job of covering the two-week competition. Watching all the sports, seeing the perfection of the human body, in form, in function (don't I sound like Hamlet?), with what skill they move and bend and perform, as if some orchestra shared with my ears a cacophony of sound exalting the human spirit.  To watch the Olympics is to witness human beings at their physical best.

But this time, I've been consistently bored with the broadcasting of the Games.  It's fantastic that America has performed so well, earned so many medals, but this time I'm just not excited about it.  And there are a ton of reasons why I think this Olympiad is among the most banal games ever broadcast.

When Football season begins again (soon, and very soon), I know for a fact that Touchdowns are worth 6 points (plus the PAT), and Field Goals are worth 3. In baseball, you run around the track and it's worth 1.  Simple scoring procedures.  Even Golf (when they don't decide to mess with it) is easy to follow.  So when I watch the Olympics, I want a simple scoring system that anyone can  understand.  It was like that in 1984, when Mary Lou Retton scored a 10 to win Gold for the Americans.  The diving competitions do it that way.  Jumps are worth a maximum of whatever score, 8.5, 9, 10...etc... and then deducts are done from there.  And while gymnastics is sort-of that way, it changes every single year.  If only the judges would hold up paper signs of their scores like they do in cartoons.  NBC tried to make it easier by using a color code for good, so-so, and bad scores, but it didn't help.

And while we're on the subject of judges.... let's get to know them.  I mean, we all know who Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Sharon Osborne are.  They need to introduce the judges for the Olympic sports.  Let us know why they are judging the competition, why they are qualified. Let's know the nationalities of them, and give a run down of how they score different things.  If not, they should just let computers scan the performances, find irregularities, and spit out a score.  The computers, like the current judges, would be omnipotent and invisible.  It's a human sport.  Let's make everyone human.

Speaking of humans... When we watch our favorite sports, football for instance, we have a clear cut reason for routing for certain teams.  I want the Oklahoma Sooners to win all their games. I love seeing Steve Spurrier lose (because he throws his hat off in disgust).  But why should I care who wins the Men's shotput? Or Women's 1000m relay?  The answer is, of course, the human interest story.  It's what made NBC's coverage of past Olympics so watchable.  We looked into the days and lives of the athletes from all over the world.  What was a common day like for the underdog Romanian gymnast? How did the Ugandan Marathon runner train for his sport, and was he running away from enemies in the country?  The athletes aren't just superbly toned bodies, they are human beings with human stories.  There was none of that this time.  We saw the USA girl gymnasts in modeling poses, and, outside of Gabby Douglas, we saw nothing about where the others come from.  Sports were broadcast with no switch-over, with no warning, and in prime-time, they filled the time slot with as many USA performances as possible, without worrying about who they were or who they were competing against. They might as well have been robots out there.

And let's face it, NBC had the ability to film years of human interest stories and show them on any number of channels.  The biggest mess up that NBC/Comcast did was to not use the NBC Sports Channel in the way that ESPN has.  While the Olympics were going on, the NBC Sports Channel had Poker on.  I never saw Olympic stuff on that channel.  They could have used that station to show recaps, human interest stories, analysis...etc... much like ESPN uses SportsCenter.  I could keep SportsCenter on all day.  I keep up with all the sports, at least in a glancing mode, all year round.  That way I can talk intelligently about baseball or basketball or hock...well, maybe not that, any time I need to.  The Olympics should have had the same thing.  An information source to keep everyone educated about what was going on.

Honestly, I thought the Olympics would be a welcome distraction from everything else that's on TV right now.  Nothing.  Nada. Zip.  Endless "reality" shows, sit-coms that are anything but funny, reruns of game shows, like Wheel of Fortune, where I can guess the puzzles cause I've seen them before, or, if the networks aren't exciting, we can always watch hours of political analysts shouting at one another ad nauseum. But this time, I think the rest of television actually brought down the games.  My expectations of the Olympics were lower because I have no expectations for anything else NBC or any other network shows.  It might have even started with the scandal about the USA uniforms for the Opening Ceremonies not being made in America. It was obvious that the television stations cared only about scandal and division than the unifying celebration the Olympics were supposed to be.  I gave up watching actual television a long time ago.  If it's not on Disney/Nick... I'm probably not going to watch it.  It's all just garbage.

I left out the whole argument about time zones and time-delay programming, because I don't think that really mattered that much.  Even editing was okay (as Golf is edited all the time and is enjoyable), it's what they showed and what they edited that was the problem, along with everything else above.  How social media affected the games, I'm not sure.  I have no problem knowing who won before watching it.  I have a problem not knowing who I'm watching.  It'll be up to those at NBC to know how to use Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Hulu...etc... to their best advantage.  They have 2 years to figure it all out.  Integration of the all medias, as well as a clear, concise way of letting people know the schedule, is imperative before they get to Russia and Rio. The Olympic Games are a global, international event.  I hope that given the global media, NBC can figure out how to make individual athletes matter as much as the medal count for entire nations.  It has nothing to do with USA vs. China.  It has everything to do with the ability of the athletes to perform at the ultimate level of human achievement.  That is what will inspire people to become the best they can be at whatever they're good at.  It gives people a goal to achieve, a common one, a goal that will unite, not divide people and nations. 

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