CBS' first two Winter Olympic telecasts -- Thursday's preview show and yesterday afternoon's two-hour program -- immediately point to the network's challenge in telecasting these Games.
The preview show featured a montage of beautiful images -- overhead views of the Alps, skiers kicking up powder in super slow-motion runs and even balletic hockey. Yesterday, the first live action to flit across the screen was the decidedly non-balletic game between the Unified Team and Switzerland, already 8-0 in favor of the Commonwealth of Independent States when CBS joined the game.
Six-hour time difference aside, Olympic competition can't be post-produced into tasty television morsels. How to hold our attention, then? For one thing, a tried-but-maybe-untrue tactic: Americans first.
Certainly, there are some U.S. competitors who are true medal contenders -- Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair, for instance -- but it might be stretching things to expect top-three finishes from the American athletes in the Alpine and Nordic events. Still, CBS did show signs of trying to strike a national and international balance, particularly in yesterday afternoon's show.
Two segments on foreign athletes struck a couple of bad notes, however. In Morley Safer's piece on German bobsledder Harald Czudaj, whose reported ties to Stasi, the former East German secret police, included spying on teammates, reaction wasn't at all mixed. Anyone interviewed -- including Katarina Witt, East German skating star-turned-CBS commentator -- seemed to excuse Czudaj's alleged behavior. Surely someone -- say, a teammate who might have been spied upon? -- could have offered a harsher view.
And a feature on a Russian cross country skier focused on her heartbreak, mostly on the separation from her young son, whom she hasn't seen since November, while in training for the Games. There must be male Olympians who have been away from their young children for a long time, but I guess that wouldn't be nearly as heart-tugging. Or as much a reinforcement of
Meanwhile, back at the anchor desk: Andrea Joyce seemed almost desperate to connect with co-host Jim Nantz and the viewing audience. There was a clumsy aside during the opening, when Joyce made a reference to being a klutz and, therefore, not trusted to handle the fragile gold medal on the set, and later an attempt at banter with Nantz about their experience climbing the steps to the top of a ski run. Nantz, though an efficient studio host, isn't exactly Mr. Warmth, and Joyce just appeared to be trying too hard.
The puck doesn't stop here: During the hockey coverage, Mike Emrick and John Davidson could have lapsed into trying too hard, especially debuting with a rout. But the pair promises to be among CBS' strengths, informative and intelligent. For example, Emrick pointed out that five of the Unified Team's eight goals had come from players who had yet to be drafted by the NHL, pointing to an incentive beyond a gold medal for CIS players.
As for the third man in on hockey, Mike Eruzione at least should learn to stop calling the Unified Team the Soviets. Or maybe he wants to make sure we remember his connection to 1980's Miracle on Ice.
And now a word from our sponsors: When it came to connections, did you notice the music playing during yesterday's feature on luger Bonny Warner? As the voice-over informed us that Warner would be moving on to a career as a pilot in the friendly skies after the Games, the music was that which has become unmistakeably identified with United Airlines. Hey, CBS, you usually let us know when you're going to a commercial break.