Take metaphors out of NBC's mix

Olympics

Winter Olympics Salt Lake City 2002

February 11, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

After watching almost every hour of Olympics television on all the various NBC broadcast and cable channels this weekend, here's the verdict: I hate the coverage, but I'm hooked on watching.

The question for NBC: Could I have more of the games and less of Bob Costas and his self-important, pseudo-sociological mumbo jumbo?

Wait, wait, I take it back. I'll live with Costas, and Katie Couric and Hannah Storm, too, if only NBC will quit running those endless promotional ads for Watching Ellie, the new Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom premiering later this month. I saw the pilot, and, believe me, it's not that great.

My problems with Costas began almost from the moment he opened his mouth at the start of Friday night's prime-time coverage. We heard him in voiceover saying, "On a mountainside in Salt Lake City tonight, the 19th Winter Olympics will not convene with a simple ceremony of innocence, but a ceremony of resonance."

It was the start of NBC's master narrative making everything about these games part of what happened on Sept. 11. The premise is that we used to be innocent, but all that changed after Sept. 11. The suggestion: getting involved in these games can somehow get us back to that pre-attack state or redeem the tragedy.

Memo to Bob: The Olympics were never convened in simple innocence -- certainly not since Hitler's Olympics in Nazi Germany anyway. And every ceremony is resonant. By definition, ceremony metaphorically refers to something else. That's what resonant means.

Look, there is undoubtedly a tremendous need in our national psyche to symbolically deal with that horrific event of Sept. 11 via our popular culture. The war stories being told on movie and television screens, as well as the record ratings for Friday night's opening ceremony with its tremendous red-white-and-blue imagery, testify to that need. And there's nothing wrong with being proud of American athletes.

But come on, guys, a "big McTwist with a 720" in women's halfpipe snowboarding really doesn't have much to do with thousands of people getting killed at the World Trade Center -- even if Kelly Clark did use it yesterday to win the first U.S. gold medal. So, please, quit trying to make some of this stuff into something it isn't, because it only diminishes the suffering and sacrifice of those authentic victims and heroes of Sept. 11.

All that said, Saturday night at about 7, I'm sitting on the edge of the couch watching a defenseman on the German men's hockey team on his knees after taking a slap shot in the teeth. Blood is pouring out of his mouth, and I'm thinking, "Man, if he has to leave the game, Slovakia's going to win this thing."

An hour earlier, I didn't even know Slovakia had a hockey team. Now, I know most of the players, as well as what happened to the "Czecho" that used to be in front of it. And I'm caring about this telecast on CNBC. That's what I mean by getting hooked.

To be fair, Costas did get better Saturday and yesterday, as he settled in after a Friday night that featured him and Couric live sounding like Willard Scott and Kathie Lee Gifford doing a holiday parade.

"It's so nice to see all these fresh, young, happy faces," Couric said as the U.S. team entered the arena.

"Up here in the booth?" Costas asked facetiously.

"I said down there," Couric replied with emphasis on the word "down."

"Oh, well, fishing for a compliment that no longer applies, I guess," Costas said chuckling with all the sincerity of Ted Baxter.

I actually liked Costas in one segment Saturday that had him sitting in front of a fireplace chatting about the history of Olympic figure skating with Jim McKay. But, then, that was on videotape only made to look live.

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