ATLANTA -- Bucky Gunts probably has the best view of these Olympics.
As coordinating director of NBC's Olympic coverage, though, his is an all-seeing but entirely remote vantage point, coming from a windowless warren of temporary studios and offices in a downtown convention center here that serves as the network's base of Olympic operations.
Gunts, a Baltimore native, is used to seeing the games on screen rather than in person -- which, if you think about it, is how most of us experience the spectacle. He directed the late-night show in 1988 and the prime-time coverage in 1992 before taking charge of all the Olympic broadcasts during these two weeks.
"In my three Olympics I've seen one event -- one volleyball game in Seoul," he says. "Oh, and in Barcelona, I heard the diving venue was beautiful, so one day I walked up to Montjuic, and I couldn't get in. But there was this peephole, so I looked through it and I saw one guy do one dive, and that was it."
You won't see his face or hear his voice -- sorry, no relief for the Costas-wearied and Engberged-out -- but much of the look of the broadcasts is the result of several years of planning. He consulted with designers of the studios from which the anchors report and scouted the athletic venues to determine where to place the cameras at each locale.
Some venues that are splendid in person are less so on television without some modifications -- the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, for example, is among the most attractive for spectators with its soaring roof and open sides that provide both shade and breeze, not to mention a view of the downtown skyline. But cutting off the light from above while letting it in from the sides is problematic for the TV cameras, but finally solved by huge scrims -- decorated with the Atlanta Games's quilt-like motif -- that partially cover the open sides, Gunts says.
Now that the planning is over and the Games are under way, he coordinates the miles of taped segments, the live shots from the scores of cameras on location, the in-studio reports and interviews, the graphics and the innumerable details that make up a broadcast.
"I knew the Olympics were big, but you don't realize how many parts there are to it," he says.
A quiet moment
It is midday, a relatively quiet time for the nearly round-the-clock operation that will produce more than 170 hours of coverage before the games end Sunday. The stream of athletes, often wearing just-won medals, coming for interviews on those now familiar curvy gold chairs, is stilled for now.
With Costas' studio darkened, you don't see the faux skyline or ersatz blue sky (actually photographed in the Bahamas) that you see on TV. The big white cylinder that hovers over Costas looks like something out of a planetarium.
It was devised to hide a ring of overhead lights that turn in sync with Costas' rotating desk so that no matter which of the 360-degrees it stops at, the lighting is always constant on him, Gunts says. But while the cylinder started out as a concealing device, it has become an element of the broadcast: graphics or videos are often played on its curved surface as "bumper" shots, heading into or out of a segment, Gunts says.
Outside, the crush of humanity makes it seem like tout le monde is physically at these Games. Especially on this particular afternoon when all the nearby venues are featuring events simultaneously. But even the record crowds here -- some 11 million tickets are in circulation for the two weeks' worth of events, the most ever -- are dwarfed by an even greater number watching NBC's broadcasts. On Sunday night, for example, an astonishing 103 million viewers tuned in.
To the average American, Gunts is probably more important to their enjoyment of the Games than Billy Payne.
"I didn't ask for the job," Gunts says with a smile. Nor, though, did he refuse it, and he is quite pleased with the good ratings to date.
Thanks to Dad
Gunts got his start in TV at WBAL, which is now the NBC affiliate in Baltimore and thus carrying the Olympics coverage. He got his start the old-fashioned way -- nepotism. His father, Brent, was general manager there, and Bucky needed a job. Brent Gunts, whose TV career included a stint at Maryland Public TV, is now president of the Advertising & Professional Club of Baltimore.
Bucky Gunts grew up in Roland Park and attended Friends School. He went to Cornell, where he played lacrosse and was in the sport's first NCAA championships, in 1971, against the University of Maryland. (Cornell won, 12-6.)