Two cheers for NBC, or maybe only 1 1/2 .
When they refer to the Games of the XXVth Olympiad, what pops to mind almost immediately are the little tricks, the ploys, the shenanigans the networks undertake to keep us glued to the set.
Last night's show from Barcelona provided a prime (time) example of how an audience can be maneuvered into sticking around until the witching hour. Make that forced.
Promptly at 7:30 p.m., anchor Peacock Bob Costas came on and, to the strains of the music we all know to be the ABC Olympic theme, informed us with accompanying pictures that the Dream Team had once again boarded a bus without incident.
This was a night in which even casual basketball fans might have their interest piqued as our All-NBA representatives faced Croatia in a short time. Actually, the teams had played hours before but, remember, these Games are coming to us "plausibly live."
Before heading out to Slam Dunk City, however, we were teased with the upcoming swimming races of Pablo Morales and Anita Nall, the final round of women's diving and a review of a couple of controversies.
In case you haven't been paying attention, be informed the way the net has been playing the Morales story, one assumes he is the long-lost great grandson of NBC's founder David Sarnoff.
Anyway, after full reports of the United States having a volleyball victory over Japan reversed and the despicable behavior of Charles Barkley during DT's 300-point victory over Angola were rendered, we were ushered to our seats at the hoops venue.
It was a decent game, relatively speaking, and the scheduling seemed perfect when, at halftime, we were back out at the pool watching Morales win his long-sought gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly.
As a public service, it should be pointed out here that when Pablo lost the gold to West German Michael Gross in 1984, it was not by the length of a fingernail as announcer Charlie Jones has repeatedly informed us. The winning margin was about two-tenths of a second and that borders on being decisive in the pool.
Perhaps we were stuck with hoops too deeply into the second half of play, but NBC is to be commended for cutting out with Michael Jordan & Friends up 88-54 at about 9:20 p.m.
Oh good, some diving, the young lady from Towson Catholic's race, some men's gymnastics (for common relief) and other assorted knick-knacks.
But first we went back to the volleyball controversy where, once again, we established ourselves as a good bet for a medal in the whining category. Then it was a local news update and other assorted debris, measuring nearly 40 minutes, before we arrived at the diving bell.
Save for the commentary of Michele Mitchell, this was a pleasant interlude, especially anytime eventual winner Fu Mingxia of China was up. How can anyone enter the water at 32 miles an hour from a height of 30 feet without making a splash?
Valiantly, American Mary Ellen Clark held onto second place until a disastrous dive on the next-to-last round. She tumbled to fifth place and the drama was at its peak when Costas interrupted and informed, "You'll see the last dive of that competition later."
It was 10:35 with the diving and the Nall race nowhere in sight. True, the telecast was due to run until midnight but, seriously, after watching since 7:30, could NBC be requiring that we stick it out all the way?
Ratings, gang, that's what it's all about. So, during the next hour or so, we were subjected to a few more teases and about six replays of that Randy Travis Coke commercial that starts, "Have you ever heard of anyone falling in love over a bottle of Coke?"
Yes, a Coke and the caffeine it provides, exactly what was needed to see this thing through.
Clark came through hugely off the diving tower for the bronze medal, and although beaten, Anita Nall proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is imbued with the true spirit of Olympianism.
A report at the very end of the show checked in with reigning world champion gymnast Kim Zmeskal and her recovery from a disastrous fall the day before. Similar to Nall, this youngster was handling the adversity beautifully and the thought occurred that what took place away from the basketball venue should be required viewing for Charles Barkley.
And, oh yes, as far as NBC is concerned: Cut us a break once in a while, fellas. It's no day at the beach having to be up every morning to catch the action (a lot of it live) on the 7-10 a.m. show.
At least we now know why most networks favor doing taped shows over live action: Better to get that fishhook through your lip and reel you in at their and the sponsor's leisure.