Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Olympics Wrap-Up, Now With Much Less Actual Wrap-Up

I went out to dinner with Gloria on Sunday night. We would have gone to a movie, but the Olympic gold medal went into overtime, and I couldn't leave in good conscience.

"I don't know," Gloria said. "I enjoyed the Olympics, but they're just not the same anymore. I don't get nearly as involved as I used to."

"Is it the right time for me to politely point out that over ninety percent of the time you were on the couch 'watching the Olympics' you were, in fact, asleep?" I asked.

"Oh, come on," she said. "It wasn't that much."

"Do you not remember how I only got you to wake up for the women's figure skating finals by shaming you with a mention of the quadrennial nature of the competition?"

"I don't remember that," she said.

Yes, I actually said "quadrennial" on the fly. Put half a marguerita in me and I become William Fucking Wordsmith. Or something.

I never saw the utility of having a Twitter account before the women's free skate final. As I was taking notes, though, I realized I could putting up these thoughts in real-time:
--Mary Carillo is very smart, but they've turned her into John Tesh with a vagina
--if I see another story about polar bears, huskies, or logging, I'm going to stab myself.
--(breathlessly) "The character she's playing is Cleopatra." I thought this was sports, not high school drama club. Here's my character: my foot up the announcer's ass.
--NBC picks at tragedy like a scab.
--I'm expecting a floating graphic above that Canadian skater's head that reads "DEAD MOTHER."
--every time I hear the phrase "kiss and cry area," I die a little inside.

--when it comes to excitement, Scott Hamilton is over-rotated.
--the camera is so close I can see the pores in her face. Pull back, man! PULL BACK!

When it comes to laughing, your mileage may vary. Actually, your mileage may be zero.

If you're not an American, and didn't see the senseless jumble that was our Olympics coverage, let me give you a quick summary: in any given hour, we were very lucky to get 20 minutes of actual sporting event coverage. The rest was commercials, promos, and human interest stories.

That may not make sense to you, but there are two huge factors working against us: one, NBC paid an obscene amount of money for the rights, so they show an obscene number of commercials, and two, we have no idea who any of these people are.

I'm serious. With the exception of the hockey players, I've never seen any of these people outside the Olympics. We lack object permanence in this country when it comes to Olympic athletes.

I'll give you an example. In the Winter Olympics, I always love the cross-country skiing events. They are an epic, unbending test of will, and they make for absolutely great theater. Plus they've added pursuit events now, which are even more dramatic.

I watched every single cross-country skiing event and all biathlon events. In spite of the fact that some of them had commercials at the rate of 30 minutes an hour (I timed it once), I just skipped through, tried to ignore the missed coverage, and still had a great time.

There's no question that I would watch the world championships every year, and I would keep up with news on the sport.

In this country, though, there IS no news on the sport. There's no major sports website coverage. There's no television coverage. Cross-country skiing doesn't exist for 206 out of 208 weeks of every four-year period.

Part of the problem is that we're such a big country, and have so many major team sports, that smaller sports get swallowed. There are really five major team sports in this country with huge amounts of television coverage: pro football, college football, pro basketball, college basketball, and pro baseball.

I would argue that pro hockey is better than any of them, but I'm not even sure it qualifies as a major sport in the U.S.
There's no room left to cover other sports, and that lack of coverage has an effect. If you'd asked me a month ago to name a Winter Olympics athlete who wasn't a hockey player, I could have named Apolo Ohno and Bode Miller. That's it. And I've never seen either one mentioned in any context outside of the Olympics.
Since we don't know who any of these people are, and NBC knows that, they desperately try to jam personal interest bullshit down our throats. They're afraid to cover these sports as sports. Instead, they tape delay and edit and turn two-hour events into thirty minute events because they just don't believe that we care enough to keep watching. They don't believe that the sports are dramatic enough to stand on their own.

Yes, part of it is because NBC wants to attract female viewers, and they believe that the personal backstories will keep women watching. Maybe they will, but NBC has become a gigantic drama queen that will take any sliver of misfortune and turn it into the sinking of the Titanic.

And even when it is real tragedy, NBC exploits it for their own gain. The Canadian figure skater, Joannie Rochette, lost her mother to a massive heart attack just days before she skated. That's true tragedy. NBC, though, kept mentioning it in some context every five seconds. They turned it from real tragedy into semi-comic farce because they wouldn't leave it alone.

To me, all I want for Olympics coverage is one gigantic data stream. I don't want interviews, I don't want backstory, I just want to see all the events from start to finish.

Boy, am I out of luck.

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