Come on, NBC, the snobby set deserves its due, too

The TV Repairman:

July 30, 1992|By Phil Jackman

You've seen the "up close and personal" a couple hundred times at least: Sweaty gym in the worst section of a big city, guys skipping rope, whacking a heavy bag or sparring in the ring.

Cut to the mean streets of the ghetto and the subject saying if it wasn't for boxing he surely would be dead or, worse, in jail. But, see, there's this dream of an Olympic gold and blah-blah-blah.

Just once and strictly as a change of pace, wouldn't you enjoy learning about an athlete from the other side of the tracks? Say a guy on the equestrian team or, better yet, a yachtsman.

Cue Harvard yard, then the Wharton School of Business at Penn. Yes indeed, viewer, it was by no means easy to overcome the advantages of superior lineage, scholarship and money. And you think crime is rampant in the inner city, the same holds true in the boardrooms high above those teeming streets.

Yes, Chauncey S.R. Dunhill III often has felt disappointment equal to that of featherweight Carlos Rodriquez, particularly when his horse tosses a shoe at the Devon Show. But we're never privy to that.

Come on, networks, if you can show every Tom, Dick and Harry golf tournament because you know it reaches a Cadillac-buying audience, why can't you do the same thing when it comes to personalizing our athletes?

* When they started talking about Detlef Schrempf as if he were the one man on earth who could knock off the Dream Team single-handed, I knew Germany had little chance to make it a game.

Fortunately, and after the DT had breezed out to a 41-12 lead, NBC decided last night not to belabor the point at the farcical basketball tournament any longer.

The net quit the hoops after a half-hour or so, and this accorded the opportunity for NBC to start treating these Games as a multi-sport and multi-nation festival.

Give the men calling the shots, co-executive producers Terry O'Neil and Dick Ebersol, gold stars for showing a swimming final that actually had no U.S. representation in the field.

Leaving the basketball at a judicious time also allowed for visits to the equestrian park and short but interesting reports from the tennis venue and from the Team USA-Cuba baseball game.

They took a swing by the boxing hall, too, but very studiously avoided any action by going with the story of how a competitor missed the bus from the athletes village and ended up being defaulted. Anthony Hembrick, wherever he may be, could relate.

In the late going, a report on a Greco-Roman wrestler from Siberia and the trials and tribulations of the U.S. men's gymnastics team hit the spot.

Just five days into the extravaganza and, aside from the actual toil itself, it's quite clear which are the highs and lows of the ongoing features.

The music videos, nada, should be scrapped in favor of civil defense testing. Of course, they do come free to NBC, don't they?

Conversely, the "Where Are They Now" features shown to date have been a joy. Last night's checked out swimmer Rick Demont, now 36, who 20 years ago had a gold medal taken away due to ignorance and a lack of fortitude on the part of U.S. Olympic Committee administrators.

There were no sad songs from Rick, though, a far cry from some of the stuff being peddled by today's athletes when given the chance to emote.

The centerpiece story from the pool involved Mike Barrowman of Potomac, who proved successful with a world record in the 200-meter breaststroke. But Mike had viewers contemplating suicide with this funereal dirge about how "haunted" he has been after finishing fourth four years ago and how he "must" win and "break the spirit of the opposition" or be damned.

One story should put the self-pity of Barrowman and U.S. diver Kent Ferguson to rest quickly. At least they had their chance to compete. An almost unbeatable distance runner named Miruts Yifter was a virtual certainty to win the gold in the 10,000 meters in Montreal (1976). Unbelievably, he was locked in a runner's holding room as his competitors were ushered to the track and he missed the final.

The Barrowman Saga turned out to be another example of a scavenger hunt the net has been known to lead us on. It was 9:10 p.m. when Bob Costas said, after a five-minute feature on JTC Mike, "we'll be back after your local news with the race."

Four commercial breaks and dive after dive from the men's springboard competition followed. A report on the Dream Team's 111-68 victory was tossed in, then a video and more ads. Finally, Costas said, "They're just about poolside," as if the event was live and, at the moment, it was 3:53 a.m. in Barcelona.

For all the subterfuge involved in these "plausibly live" Games, however, Costas remains a treat to behold at the controls.

In the tennis report, Bud Collins made a reference to an ill-fated military coup in Madagascar, which caught Costas completely by surprise. In no more than a few minutes and with a researcher talking in one ear, Bob detailed how 10 men had taken over a radio station on the island just off the east coast of Africa.

"The coup went nowhere," he revealed, "but the men did get the format of the station changed from classical music to country and western."

Fun and games is an apt name.

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