CBS' personality profiles are medal winners, too

Phil Jackman

February 13, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Many complain, the TV Repairman included, that too often during Winter Olympics coverage the seemingly endless flow of features robs an event of its continuity, spontaneity and excitement.

You've seen it a million times: It's down to the last competitor in the contest, he or she is the favorite but has to turn in a superlative performance to win . . . but, wait, let's meet Olaf away from the arena. Cut to a guy sitting on a stump in the outback of Liechtenstein, whittling. "Ya, I love the country. Never move to the village. Too many people, 650," he says as he and the inevitable dog stroll off.

However, the profiles CBS tossed into its prime-time mix last night worked just right. It made the story of Fabrice Guy's becoming France's first gold-medal winner with his effort in the Nordic combined event. By now, you should know this involves ski jumping, followed by a cross country ski and total exhaustion at the finish line.

Then, an attempt to uncover the whys and wherefores of skater Christopher Bowman was masterfully done, although we're probably more confused now than before.

Also, there was Scott Hamilton, on ice, giving a detailed description and demonstration of the half-dozen jumps that heretofore were little more than mysteries to the masses. In all its years of covering the sport, I don't recall ABC and Dick Button ever rendering this service.

Of course, there was a pretty good reason for providing this background material; namely, the net did not have an event it could hang its hat on.

Besides the calendar of events being skimpy, it was another day of building character for the Americans, Bonnie Blair finishing 21st in the 1,500-meter speed skating race and Cammy Myler finishing fifth in the women's luge.

It's comical when, after every mild disappointment, one of the CBS announcers will point out, excitedly, "That's the best finish ever by an American."

Myler's fifth-place finish is an improvement of one spot over Bonny Warner's sixth-place effort four years ago. Big deal!

In the Nordic combined, Americans ran 37-39-40 and Did Not Finish, no doubt for a lack of money and training time, so CBS decided to brighten our hopes by pointing out the two-man bobsled team of Brian Shimer and Herschel Walker led the training runs. Repeat, training.

Finally, another of the net's crack newsmen was put to work yesterday, Morley Safer ("60 Minutes") talking politics and the future with the gold medal-winning Soviet pairs team in prime time, then filling us in on what the French are really like -- "They have a wonderfully mean streak" -- during the late show. For a while there, it appeared Charles Kuralt was the only one getting up in the morning and making the rounds to sniff out stories.

* TODAY'S TIP: No matter what, fight the urge to stay up late for the nightly injection of "California Cool," as doled out by Pat O'Brien.

It's really not clear what audience his smugness is trying to appeal to, but it's assumed 13-year-old girls have gone beddy-bye as the witching hour approaches. Still, Pat plows on on this MTV kick that has you clamoring for commercials.

After a serious attempt to get to know skater Christopher Bowman during prime time, the late show egged the guy on to show his self-absorbed jerk side during which Chris made a fool of himself. "Quite a guy," O'Brien assured.

"That's great stuff," said Pat of Safer's polished effort, further showing his approval by adding, "Come back sometime, will you?" Just like Johnny Carson, in case you hadn't noticed."

Mr. Smug's parting shot was priceless, too: "Time for us to crash, good night."

Time to start a petition requesting CBS change the commercials. There hasn't been a new one from the dozen main sponsors in what seems like months. Even the "Unc, I'm having trouble landing my double Axel," is wearing thin.

A memory to take away from the Olympics is the reaction of Austrian skier Hubert Strolz, who was a chip-shot field goal away from repeating as Alpine combined champion when he went down, went off the course and slipped out of the medals.

"I won four years ago when [Pirmin] Zurbriggen went down, so it works both ways. That's sport," he said. Shudder to think how other athletes (no names, please) would have taken the setback.

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