Since its ice-sculpturiffic debut last Friday night, NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics has been singled out for occasional mild criticism. Cynical Cynthias have tsk-tsk'd the frequent forays into "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" territory. Glued-to-the-web cubicle gnomes have questioned why so much of the TV coverage is tape-delayed. For instance, the moderately populous state of California, which shares a time zone with Vancouver, has enjoyed vanishingly few moments of live prime-time action, if any.
Valid points, both. I, however, could not disagree more.
The coverage of the Vancouver Games across NBC's broadcast, cable and online outlets has been an outstanding achievement in the field of excellence, one which will redefine sports broadcasting for the new millennium, and all the other millenniums and millenia after that. Just look at the numbers: More than 26 million viewers per night so far, and that's before the figure-skating gals have taken to the ice. Anything that's popular has to be good.
Frankly, the only thing that could make me happier would be if the NBC family could find some way to more prominently involve its delightful, carefree nephew Keith Olbermann. Here, therefore, is my five-part argument explaining why NBC has done such a wonderful job capturing the spirit and spectacle of the Winter Games that it ought to be handed the rights to every major sporting event, from Nascar to the WNBA. Minds, prepare to be changed and blown.
1. NBC protects me from myself. While watching Danilo Gallinari miss two late three-pointers that might have propelled my sad New York Knicks to victory last night, I wailed so loudly and profanely that it prompted the neighbors to call protective services. By contrast, as I watched Lindsey Vonn win the women's giant slalom with a mad-dog, late-heat run, I felt no need to gnaw on a fingernail or otherwise disturb my state of sublime repose.
Why? Because NBC.com, along with 3,500 other online and offline providers of what is commonly called "news," had been so considerate as to inform me of the results in advance. This prevented me from investing as heavily in the event as I did the Knicks game, and spared me the inevitable heartbreak. My therapist approves.
2. NBC reminds me that I live in the only country in the world. It is probable that "Norway" has its share of personable, accomplished competitors. I imagine that several members of the "German" team are as witty and urbane as a Baldwin brother. But I don't need to see this for myself, which is why I laud NBC for having apparently excised or rearranged the entrance of several countries' Olympic delegations during its coverage of the Opening Ceremonies. Just point me towards the red, white and blue heroes whose visages will adorn my cereal boxes for the next few months, and let me reclaim the "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chant from cold storage.
Meanwhile, what's this about Georgia being a country? It's an American place located in the United States of America, thank you very much. Stop trying to confuse us.
3. NBC takes pains to inform me about products and services that can dapple my gray afternoons with vibrant color. Why, yes! Of course I'd be interested in learning how DreamWorks envisions snowboardcross as it might've been performed by anthropomorphic dragons! It's illuminating because it could happen!
Meanwhile, evening-only viewers have wondered aloud about the frequent commercial interruptions, as if we don't need a few minutes of soup and detergent tutorials to regain our bearings after the tension and terror that is the four-man bobsled practice heats. Bah! The commercials are as informative as they are non-distracting. Why, thanks to some of the more persistent advertisers, I now realize that I should be using body wash rather than bar soap. No longer shall I experience shower shame.
4. NBC awakens me to the drama that is sadly absent from professional sports. I can't fully enjoy an event unless I've been alerted to the back stories of its participants, especially if they've overcome some kind of hurdle involving negligent parenting, infectious disease or illiteracy. NBC comes up strong in this regard; I can't imagine how much cash it budgeted for the soft-focus lenses and canned strings that intensify the emotional oomph.
Also, the network has chosen to celebrate the positive, rather than dote on the tiny humiliations that befall even the most accomplished jocks. Like on Monday night, when no fewer than five pairs skaters fell on their tushies. Did that set any of the commentators wailing? No! They focused on the artistry and the achievement, even when both were in short supply.
Or take Lindsey Jacobellis, the extreme-intense-sports gal who has now punted her event in two straight Olympic games. If something similar happened in during an NFL contest, a critical-minded pundit like Phil Simms or Cris Collinsworth (an NBC employee -- booo!) would feel the responsibility to identify the offending participant as a showboating jackass. Happily, during the Olympics, we're encouraged to concentrate on the loserheads' positive qualities, like their dimples.
5. NBC keeps me guessing. When I tune in to watch ice skating, I don't necessarily want to watch skaters skating on ice. No, what I really want is a random smorgasbord of sport, with bits and pieces of curling, biathlon and skicross intruding on my besequined reverie. Too, I want these filler events to be interspersed with the ice skating willy-nilly, aired both live and on tape delay, presented without coherent delineation.
This may addle my poor DVR, whose imagination is confined to a mere microchip, but it invests my evenings with the unpredictability and annoyance far too absent from my workdays. Oh, wait.*****
See? True, there have been lapses -- I'm looking at you, Mr. Producer Who Didn't Cut Away From The Pukey Biathlete, and you, Mr. Slow On the Censor Button Who Missed Shaun White's Coach Uttering a Few Words Not Taught in Charm School. But for the most part, NBC's Winter Olympics coverage has been a celebration of everything that is wonderful about circa-2010 sports: the commercial enslavement, the personality-dependent presentation, the stridently non-critical broadcasters. Yay, everything!
Now, back to those animated dragons. Why don't they luge? Get on that.