CBS' packaging makes dated events worth long wait

Phil Jackman

February 10, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Talk about feeling like a fool. There it was Sunday morning, the first sip of coffee was still a few moments away, and here a guy from CBS was telling us to turn our heads away if we didn't want to know the results of the men's downhill race at the Winter Olympics.

And darned if I didn't do it.

See, the downhill had been over for a couple of hours since France is six time zones ahead of the East Coast and, well, the network wanted one of the premier events of the Games for a slightly larger audience 12 hours later.

Ridiculous. One of the great things about television is immediacy and here were these jokers passing on it. CBS did the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago; what if it had put it on tape to run opposite the NBA All-Star Game on NBC yesterday? Given a choice, would it have delayed the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor a day in order not to ruin the weekend?

Then something one of the network wheels, Mark Harrington, said recently popped to mind. "The Olympics are such a unique event," he said, "research tells us people want to watch the performances even if the results are known."

You know, he might be right. Jim Nantz caught me with that turn-your-head-away warning just once, so I knew Patrick Ortlieb of Austria had won the downhill in a huge upset. Still, I was as anxious as anyone to view the handling of the event during prime time last night.

Clearly, the end justified the means. The trappings surrounding Ortlieb's success from his position as first man down the hill were terrific.

What stories: It was Patrick's first downhill victory ever. The CBS camera lived and died with him as subsequent skiers rose for the challenge and fell back.

Former champions Andy Mill and Billy Kidd expressed beautifully the feelings and technical expertise of these daredevils of the slopes.

A feature on the controversial course revealed how Bernhard Russi had set up the layout. Russi was the leader from the No. 1 position, just like Ortlieb, back in 1976 when Franz Klammer made that unbelievable run to immortality in his home country of Austria.

Four years ago, in Calgary, Peter Mueller led from the start only to have the 15th starter, Purmin Zurbriggen, push him back to second place. And now here came the American hope, No. 15, AJ Kidd, hoping for a similar result.

Russi explains simply that his course has many more turns because he wanted to reward the best skier, not the best skis. On this day it did, same as the network's 50-minute package that seemed no longer than one of those Lee Iacocca ads.

CBS will have 116 hours of coverage during the next two weeks and only about a third of it will be live, mostly in the mornings (7-9 a.m.) when kids are heading off to school and adults are gearing up for their work-a-day world.

Face it, a huge majority of viewers will be getting their Olympics via these evening packages and, as Harrington points out, "Videotape enables us to create an entertaining and coherent broadcast."

At the same time and with shows morning, afternoon (TNT, 1-6 p.m.) and evening (8-11 p.m.), post-production work is going on all over the place and imagination and creativity work wonders here, too.

The almost bare essentials of a ski-jumping event were shown in the morning, then packaged for later showings. Interviews and features on the medal-winners make second and third viewings even better. Immediacy be hanged.

* TODAY'S TIP: Effervescent speed skater Bonnie Blair, winner of a gold and bronze four years ago, won't compete in the 500-meter sprint until after the network leaves the air this morning. Consequently, TNT will be all over the story beginning at 1 p.m. Since only half the country has cable, CBS will have a big package in prime time along with the final two runs of the men's luge and the downhill portion of the men's Alpine combined.

* THUMBS UP: Anything Charles Kuralt chooses to do, be it politics, geography or just plain people as he roams the Savoy region . . . The uproarious "Report from the Planet Earth" video written and sung by David Frishberg . . . The fantastic and scary camera's-eye view of 1988 champion Purmin Zurbriggen's cascading down the perilous downhill course . . . Speed skating outdoors where it belongs . . . The feature on the two downhill skiers from the African nation of Senegal.

* THUMBS DOWN: Morning viewers yesterday deserved a little more consideration than interminable desk talk by co-hosts Jim Nantz and Andrea Joyce. . . Any sound bite involving that consummate showoff, skater Christopher Bowman . . . The expression "all that and more" as the net breaks for commercial . . . Tim McCarver's obligatory "frequent flyer" quip. One's the limit, Tim . . . The term "31-year-old waitress" to describe pairs skater Calla Urbanski.

* THE OTHER HALF: At the height of the pomp of the Opening Ceremonies when France's President Francois Mitterand was officially opening the Games, over on the Fox Network Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Randy Savage were doing all sorts of unspeakable things to each other on WWF's "Main Event."

* QUICKIES: John Davidson and Mike Emrick are going to make hockey tournament viewing a pleasure no matter what the outcome . . . For a day, at least, CBS isn't going into a funk about the slow start of American athletes, medal hopefuls AJ Kitt, Duncan McDonald and Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval falling by the wayside . . . Still trying to figure out some of the entertainment at the Opening Ceremonies and why the gals from the Follies Bergiere weren't included on the program . . . Katarina Witt is on the verge of being an interesting commentator, if the person asking the questions can press the right button.

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