TV announcers have obligation to be as good as event producers

Media Watch

July 19, 1996|By Milton Kent

As the curtain is raised tonight on the biggest television show of the year, the Summer Olympics (Channel 11, 8 p.m.) and its opening ceremonies, the natural tendency over the next 16 days will be to focus on the words of announcers like Bob Costas, Dick Enberg, Greg Gumbel and the rest of NBC's announcing crew.

However, it's more than likely that what will distinguish these centennial Games from any other Olympics or from any other television show are the pictures and the extraordinary efforts of NBC's producers, camera operators and technicians.

The staffers tell the story of Bill Bonnell, a producer who in Barcelona during the 1992 Games went for three days without sleep, and was seen in an editing suite at the International Broadcast Center, swaying back and forth, suffering from obvious sleep deprivation.

Finally, Bonnell was ordered to return to the network hotel, if only for a few hours. He politely, but firmly, refused.

"And then something that would be bogus and corny and out of a B-movie if it weren't true happened," said Costas, the prime-time host in both Barcelona and Atlanta. "He said, 'I waited my whole life to do this, and I'm going to do it as best as I can and I'm going to get every ounce out of myself that I can. I'll remember this experience for the rest of my life, and I want to give everything I have to it.' "

The NBC production crew, despite having more events than any other broadcast network, has already turned in yeoman work for the Atlanta Games, logging hundreds of thousands of miles while slogging equipment and luggage through 30 countries for the 140 feature pieces you'll see during the telecasts.

"We've been through the test," said Lisa Lax, an NBC producer who heads the unit that gathered the profiles. "If we're doing our jobs right, you'll feel something about these athletes and it will enhance our coverage."

That kind of commitment makes it incumbent on the announcers who front the coverage to turn in work that at least matches, if not exceeds, the work on the other side of the camera.

"As the host of a good portion of the coverage, you feel a responsibility, not just to the athletes and their stories and not just to the audience, but also to your colleagues," said Costas. "People have put years of their lives into this kind of work. Their dedication to it is overwhelming, and when you're the person [on the air], you feel a responsibility to carry the ball for these people and not fumble it."

Costas and Enberg will be joined tonight by Katie Couric of the "Today" show, with reporting assistance from Hannah Storm and Jim Gray.

ABC's fallen star

One of the passengers on the TWA flight that crashed Wednesday night off Long Island was ABC Sports executive producer Jack O'Hara, who was en route to supervise the network's coverage of the Tour de France cycling race.

O'Hara, 39, accompanied on the plane by his wife and one of his three children, was a five-time Emmy award winner who worked for 14 years at the network, the last five as head of production.

"While it may be some time before we have confirmation, it appears we have lost a trusted friend who contributed much over many years to this company," wrote Bob Iger, president of the network. "Jack was a great guy who was passionate about his work and committed to airing the finest sports television programming possible."

Iger wrote that O'Hara had written to his production staff Wednesday that he was planning to leave the company. He is survived by twin 12-year-old boys.

His presence will be missed.

Of familiarity and contempt

Talk about your schizo weekends. Josh Lewin will experience a couple of sides of the broadcasting cube this weekend, from drumming up passion as host of a radio talk show tonight, to calling the Orioles-Boston game tomorrow on television (Channel 1 p.m.) to doing the same duties Sunday on WBAL (1090 AM).

"I'll go from, 'This is getting old; this team is disappointing,' to playing it right down the middle of the fairway and back," said Lewin.

Lewin says that the advantage of knowing the Orioles so well when he calls them on Fox is met by the knowledge that using a lot of inside dirt will turn off a good share of the national audience.

"If you're going to use any stylized nicknames, you have to remember that you've got someone in Bangor, Maine, watching. You can't take anything for granted on a national broadcast. You have to set everything up and you have to stop rooting," said Lewin.

In the Fox pre-game show at 12: 30 p.m., Steve Lyons will chat and play tennis with Brady Anderson, then participate in a studio discussion about the Orioles' disappointing campaign to date.

Looking ahead

ESPN's "NFL Prime Monday" makes its season premiere Monday at 7: 30 p.m. with hosts Mike Tirico and Sterling Sharpe.

The show will be in a 30-minute configuration for the first five weeks, as it chronicles progress at various training camp sites. For this week, there is a planned feature on the last Baltimore NFL team to reach the playoffs, the 1975-77 Colts and their coach, Ted Marchibroda, the big boss of the Ravens.

Finally, the network announced that its Sunday morning football pre-game show, "NFL GameDay", will be re-titled "NFL Countdown" and will be 90 minutes in length, the longest of all pre-game shows. We are left to wonder why.

Pub Date: 7/19/96

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