Monday, August 11, 2008

The Olympics So Far

Putting the Olympics on television is the ultimate political act of a network: you can't make everybody happy, and in fact, if somebody's cheesed off at you, you're probably doing it right. Some people aren't happy with the Olympics being in Beijing to begin with. Bob Costas standing in Tieneman Square might be just a little unsettling to some, like resurfacing the Titanic and using it for a cruise ship. But then there was the spectacle of the opening ceremonies. You have to admit, that was quite a show.

So, how's it going so far? Well, from the point of view of this NBC affiliate master control operator, it looks great, but sometimes I have to turn the sound down.

It's the same old TV axiom: we'll spend $50,000 on a camera, and hand the talent a hundred dollar microphone - if we remember to hand them one at all. At one point Saturday night Bob Costas found himself holding his lavaliere while his guest had no mike at all. Bob assumed the viewers could hear nothing, but in reality we could hear everyone OK thanks to the Chinese tradition of using an omni-directional overhead mike in the studio. How delightfully low tech. And it worked - somewhat. Had Mr. Costas put away his snark for a moment the segment might've gone over quite well. Lord, how I miss Jim McKay.

I like Bob Costas. I get him. But I can easily see why some folks would like to see him get the same send off they gave Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. Costas is the commentator voted most likely to reference Dostoevsky during a demolition derby. His bon mots aren't just dry, they're dehydrated. Thank God Matt Lauer was there during the opening ceremony to throw some water on the fire. Matt, he who uses blow darts to deflate Conan O'Brien's inflatable man, is in on the joke. (You have to have a sense of humor to put up with Meredith every morning.) Listening to Lauer and Costas wasn't too painful. Costas: "The Republic of Central Africa, is, as you know, a Republic located in Central Africa." Lauer: "Thanks, Bob."

People are asking why did NBC spend good money to fly Cris Collinsworth to China? (Knowing Cris, he's probably asking the same thing.) I'm asking why did NBC spend good money to fly Andrea Kramer to China. And why will they blow another wad to send her back?

So, overall, great images, but the sound needs work. That 5.1 surround can reveal a lot of shortcomings in the system. Even with the best windscreens, plosive laden commentators are thumping woofers in homes everywhere. The studio segments have audio on only the center channel. During the opening ceremony, somebody forgot the hook up a tie line to the stadium sound board so we could really hear the singers. And more care needs to be taken in aiming crowd mikes at the events. Aim them up into the ambiance of the stadium, not at the lower rows where an isolated group create a distraction. During the women's gymnastics Sunday night, the mikes were picking up a group of very enthusiastic young ladies. Now, those of you who have ever attended a girl's junior high or high school athletic event know what I'm talking about. These are teenage girls. They do what teenage girls tend to do at athletic events: they shriek... and shriek... and shriek... and shriek... always at volume levels and pitches that cause automatic garage doors to open. Please, aim the mikes up. Thank you.

Some other issues being debated:

It's not live on the West Coast.
How long have you lived California? You know nothing is live on the West Coast.

There are too many commercials.
If you could see my network timing sheets, you'd see there are fewer commercial breaks during prime time during the Olympics than there are during a typical prime time schedule. The show segments tend to be much longer, and the spot breaks tend to be shorter. That said, NBC needs to back off the promos for the upcoming fall shows. I saw "My Own Worst Enemy" in three consecutive breaks. NBC can be it's own worst enemy.

The announcers on the CBC are better.
Yeah. They are.

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