NBC coverage: Is it live, or is it plausible? ATLANTA OLYMPICS

Media Watch

July 31, 1996|By Milton Kent

Everybody's weighing in on NBC's policy of tacitly passing off its Olympics coverage as live.

ESPN's Bob Ley, during last night's 6: 30 "SportsCenter," plugged an upcoming baseball doubleheader by saying the games would be live, adding slyly, "We promise." A few minutes later, co-anchor Charley Steiner noted that the pending feature on the U.S. men's basketball team would be "plausibly live," the phrase that NBC has been using to describe its coverage.

The trouble is, with just five more days to go, the veneer of plausibility continues to erode, although in some cases the network is getting sloppy in its obfuscation.

For example, near the top of last night's telecast, you could see daylight flooding the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center during the synchronized swimming competition that was taped yesterday morning, yet played in prime time as if live.

Perhaps the worst case was during Monday night's track and field. We saw the men's 400-meter sprint air live, and as Michael Johnson trotted around the track in triumph, he ran into the field area and briefly consoled a hobbled, unidentified man covered in sand.

One hour later, however, viewers saw that man, long jumper Michael Powell, as he suffered an apparent injury and laid down in the sand, then stood and hobbled out of the pit. We didn't see him talk with Johnson, but a viewer with a good memory and a VCR certainly could piece the two together.

As we've said before, NBC cannot cover every event live and shouldn't be expected to. But, in trying to pass off taped coverage as live, without telling the viewer which is which, the network invites cynicism and mistrust. How does the viewer know that a commentator didn't go back after the fact and add emotion and attempt to heighten the drama with new commentary after the event?

Though network officials have said that wouldn't happen, are their words as plausible as their coverage? You decide.

The good

The moving ceremony to reopen Centennial Olympic Park three days after the bombing was an emotional highlight, and the singing of "The Power of the Dream," at the end of the proceedings lifted the song's status from marketing device to anthem of courage and strength.

The bad

Last night's protestations of NBC's track crew that Carl Lewis belongs in the 4 x 100-meter relay frankly sound like a big-time network attempting to lean on American track officials to give them another tear-jerking ratings-grabber, since Lewis' try for a record 10th Olympic gold medal would make for a compelling story.

The really weird

Synchronized swimming?

No, seriously. Synchronized swimming?

So, they actually award medals and give air time to a "sport" that looks like a bunch of people imitating the agitation cycle of a top-load washer, eh?

What will they think of next, ballroom dancing? And when will we see that, "plausibly live," of course?

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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