Take heart: Taped coverage has its time, place at Olympics

MEDIA WATCH

September 15, 2000|By MILTON KENT

Want some good news about NBC's taped Olympic coverage? Here it is: There won't be as much of it from Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympics in two years, or for the next Summer Games in Athens in 2004.

Indeed, Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Sports, said all of the figure skating and hockey from the Games in 2002 will air live, as well as a chunk of speed skating. And there will be some live competition from Greece in four years, where the time difference between Athens and Baltimore is only eight hours.

That's small consolation, of course, for die-hard sports fans who are used to having their athletic competition as it happens, and will get none of that from NBC's Sydney telecast, which opens tonight.

But the taped component is a necessary consequence of having the Games staged in a place so far away from the United States, said Ebersol.

With most of the Sydney event finals scheduled for prime time in Australia - which is the early morning back here - taping and airing the competitions during prime time here, when most Americans can see them is the logical thing to do, Ebersol said, especially when NBC has more than $800 million in rights fees and production costs for Sydney to recoup.

In an indirect sense, NBC's ratings success or failure from Sydney may have a bearing on efforts to bring the Games to the Baltimore-Washington corridor in 2012.

The site for the 2008 Games will be announced next July from among a list of finalist cities that includes Paris; Toronto; Beijing; Istanbul, Turkey; and Osaka, Japan, with Toronto and Beijing widely considered the favorites.

Ebersol was asked earlier this week by a Toronto reporter if he had a preference for a site in 2008, the last Games covered in the mammoth five-Olympic, $3.5 billion television deal reached with the International Olympic Committee five years ago.

Ebersol neatly sidestepped the question, but pointed out that an ideal Games situation for an American telecaster would be for them to be staged on the North American continent.

Ebersol said NBC does not have a voice in the site selection process. That may be true in the strictest sense, but a $3.5 billion investment surely gets you the courtesy of an advisory phone call.

And one would have to think that the IOC would take notice if NBC's ratings stumble from Sydney, located just two hours ahead of Beijing, especially since NBC will pay $894 million for the 2008 Games.

If Beijing is passed over for Toronto, it would be unlikely that the IOC would place the Olympics in North America twice within four years, meaning there'd be little chance that Baltimore or any other American city would host the Games in 2012.

Tonight's telecast (Channel 11, 7:30 p.m.) will include an extended look at the bidding scandals that have plagued the Olympics in recent years, and complete coverage of the opening ceremonies, hosted by Bob Costas and Katie Couric. Muhammad Ali, who lit the Olympic cauldron so dramatically in Atlanta, is expected to be on hand to symbolically pass the torch to an unidentified successor.

Knight's fall

Kudos to ESPN's Jeremy Schaap for conducting a tough, but fair-minded interview with former Indiana men's basketball coach Bobby Knight Tuesday, as opposed to the kissy-face session conducted by Roy Firestone and Digger Phelps in May. Schaap got to the heart of the issues raised by Knight's firing, and didn't let him dictate the proceedings.

While Knight, who did not have reporter approval, clearly tried to bluster and bully his way through the roughly 30-minute interview, including a vicious and gratuitous slap at Schaap, by invoking that he wasn't "half the man as" his father, Dick, who also works for ESPN, Jeremy Schaap kept his cool and stayed on point.

ESPN has tried to appropriate the Knight story as its own, with two ballyhooed and exclusive interviews with the former coach. Tuesday's session was seen in nearly 1.7 million homes, a pretty good number for a midweek show, and ESPN Classic is planning a three-hour Knight marathon tonight at 9.

But make no mistake about it: The firing of Bobby Knight came as the result of diligence from CNN/SI and producer Robert Abbott, who reported in March the original charges of improper conduct by Knight toward his players.

Over the scoffing of university officials and its competitors, CNN/SI produced the original story, chronicling Knight's eccentricities and the eventual smoking gun, a practice video showing Knight with his hands on the neck of former player Neil Reed. From there, the clock on Knight's tenure started ticking.

Around the dial

In case you didn't know, Channel 2 will simulcast ESPN's coverage of Sunday's Ravens-Dolphins game at 8:30 p.m., with a modest, but no doubt interesting pre-game show airing at 8, hosted by Keith Mills from the ESPN Zone.

Ravens quarterback Tony Banks is the subject of Jerry Coleman's "A Closer Look" Sunday (Channel 54, 11 a.m.) and of Bryan Burwell's cover story on HBO's "Inside the NFL," tonight at 7.

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