Feature-first coverage has women in mind

Media Watch

August 02, 1996|By Milton Kent

In a provocative interview in the current New Yorker, NBC Sports researcher Nicholas Schiavone reveals that the old "nature vs. nurture" argument is what fuels the network's Olympics coverage.

In more than 10,000 interviews over six years that helped NBC mold the kind of coverage people want, the network found that while what Schiavone considers the three elements of human nature -- "think, feel, do" -- apply to both sexes, men and women use them in different ways.

"I think it's partly the genetic code, but I think that society also encourages the two different perspectives, because they are complementary -- the emotional dimension and the rational dimension," said Schiavone.

The researcher went on to say that because women are the child-bearers, the human race comes from the "inside out."

"It's nature, nurture and physiology. I wonder if the appeal of the Olympics to women the way we [at NBC] do it, 'inside out,' is that life itself comes from inside out, whereas men take a more externalized approach. You could say we dwell in the tension between male and female, the external and the internal," said Schiavone.

In so many words, what Schiavone and, by extension, NBC, are suggesting is that while men are happy with the event itself, women need to know who the participants in the event are and how they can identify with them.

That would explain why, even with the Olympics taking place in a time-zone-friendly place like Atlanta, taped events are needed, because there must be time to set them up, to explain them for the women in the audience.

While serious sports fans, male and female, may not agree with the approach, it certainly has paid off in the ratings, though one could wonder how well these Games might have performed against fresh programming on the other networks.

What it doesn't explain, however, is NBC's treatment to date of sports like basketball, softball and soccer, where American women have performed well but have been largely ignored, in favor of things like synchronized swimming. The first three are near the top of the list of sports that introduce little girls to athletics. Their inclusion on the prime-time telecast would seem to tie right into the second ring, reality, of NBC's five-ring telecast philosophy, and the sentence, "People look for real stories and 'relatability,' things that apply to them."

Yet, in a move criticized on the floor of Congress, the network carried very little of Tuesday's gold-medal softball game, even though it was going on while the prime-time broadcast was on the air.

However, highlights from last night's soccer match got a good chunk of prime-time exposure, and tonight's basketball semifinal, which was slated for the late-night show, may air in prime time, according to NBC promos.

The golden run

NBC's track package has been the strongest point of its Olympics coverage and its handling of the signature event of last night -- Michael Johnson's 200-meter run -- was nearly as spectacular as Johnson's incredible world-record dash.

The network used a fleet of cameras, each angle more illustrative of Johnson's majesty than the previous, and race callers Tom Hammond and Craig Masback were up to the task.

If there was a quibble, it was that it took about 10 minutes for the network to identify the second- and third-place finishers, something that should have happened a lot sooner.

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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