Feb 21, 2007

Pop Olympics

[This was originally written on 21 February, 2002. Still catching up...]

Ever since I was a kid I've loved the Olympics. I can remember camping out in front of the television years ago and watching them for hour after hour, from the opening ceremony to the close, like some out-of-control Jerry Lewis telethon. It all seemed so magical--the excitement of the events, the highs of the medal ceremonies... the anticipation alone warmed the cockles of my (even then) couch potato heart.

Even now I love to watch the Olympics. Those of you who know me are probably wondering "Who the hell is writing this crap?" Yes, for the most part I'm not interested in sports, but for some reason I could sit down for days on end and watch skiing, bobsled, skating, and yes, even curling. And I have to confess that I love the figure skating. Something about the Olympics just turns me into a blubbering sap. So shoot me.

I don't know what it is--There's just something about watching these massively dedicated people pit themselves against each other and the clock that fascinates me. And that single moment when an athlete wins the gold medal makes me go all mushy and rubbery inside. I get this sympathetic emotional charge coursing through my body as though I was actually there.

But here's the kicker. I want to watch the events. I mean all the events. I want to see Austria vs. Canada in curling. I want to see Italy match up against Mexico in the frozen cow-chip toss. I want to see Burkina Faso take on Martinique in the two-man three-legged cross-country dodeca-athlon. I want to see the Olympics.

Instead, I get to watch Bob Costas trying (and failing spectacularly) to be funny. I get to watch the Daytona 500. I get to watch vapid hollywood gossip shows. And God forbid we preempt a soap opera for something as boring as the Olympics.

Aside from the sparse coverage on MSNBC and CNBC, I get 3 hours of commercial-packed Olympics at prime-time from 7 to 10 each night. And if that's not bad enough, an hour of that is taken up following American athletes around asking stupid questions like "Are you going to try for the gold?", "Are you excited to be here?" etc.

"No, I'm bummed to be here and I'm really hoping to walk away with the zinc medal. My motto is 'strive for mediocrity', Bob."

You've gotta be kidding me.

We get to see the American athletes competing for their medals. Condensed, tape-delayed snippets of various events, sanitized and liberally sprinkled with background and local-color segments are spoon fed to us, Nielsen point by Nielsen point. If an alien dropped into my living room and watched the Olympics as presented on NBC, they'd think it was the USA against a bunch of other mouth-breathers who just happened to luck out and win an event once in a while.

Now I understand that NBC needs to make money off the Olympics, and I don't begrudge them that--I'm well aware of the world that we live in. But come on, NBC should be ashamed of itself. They complained two years ago when the Summer Olympics was in Australia that the huge time difference was going to reduce viewership because they couldn't show events live at 4AM. But this year, with no time difference at all, we get to watch our events tape-delayed (and edited down). This kind of behavior is below even an Enron executive (OK, maybe not, but you get my point).

Let's set the way-back machine for summer 2000. I spent the entire duration of the Summer Games working at a client in Switzerland (Believe me, it's not always this good). And I'll bet you that I saw more of the Olympics than anyone in the US did that year. There was a channel called Eurosport that showed the Olympics 24 hours a day. They showed live Olympic events all night long, and when the Olympic day ended, they showed the rest of the events that happened that day, interspersed with reruns of the live events. Maybe they would squeeze in a medal ceremony if there was time. Commercials were short and painless, and we didn't get to hear from Jane Swimmer's aunt's gardener's cousin's wife about how Jane wanted to be a swimmer ever since her mother dumped her into a drainage canal at the tender age of 2. I saw the Olympics that year.

So, for crying out loud, couldn't we sacrifice a cable channel somewhere to show the real olympics instead of this watered down drivel? I mean, can't we live for two weeks without the "Hairless Cat Channel," or the Infomercial channel or something? NBC can still show their version of the Olympics, but at least those of us who are interested would be able to watch the real Olympics.

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