It was about 30 years ago that a sports writer in Baltimore
wrote a letter to Tom Moore, then sports director of ABC, to
suggest a different sort of sports show.
Baseball, football and boxing dominated TV sports in those
days, and ABC was introducing the instant replay. Jim McKay, the
Baltimore writer, suggested a special to display the drama that
is common to all sports _ "the thrill of victory and the agony of
That led to Wide World of Sports, a series on individual
sports that lasted for years with McKay as the anchor. Wide World
of Sports led to ABC's Olympic Games telecasts, which became a
legend for showing that sports drama was so remarkable it needed
McKay often spoke quietly or not at all in pressure moments.
ABC added "up close and personal" stories behind the drama.
Howard Cosell added controversy to the mix, interviewing Tommy
Smith, who gave the clenched fist salute in 1968, and criticizing
Olympic boxing officials in 1972.
Now, NBC is pouring all these ingredients ad nauseam into the
Barcelona Olympics _ over dramatizing every event, repeating
background stories until they have become up close and boring,
criticizing the tiniest flaws of athletes and blowing
controversial decisions out of proportion.
As a result, the 1992 Olympics have become what Barry Horn of
The Dallas Morning News calls NBC's latest soap opera, "As the
Olympic World Turns." Ma Perkins would have torn off her apron in
disgust at the constant repetition of the story that the coach of
Unified Team gymnast Svetlana Boginskaya committed suicide.
The over dramatizing begins with the annoying effort to drive
the pressure moments home by delaying them _ in effect pressuring
viewers to stick around through several sets of commercials. NBC
Sports President Dick Ebersol said the emphasis on human drama is
needed to increase ratings.
Evidently it's working. The early ratings reached 19.3, up
from 16.8 in 1988. Each rating points represents 931,000 homes
viewing the events. The ratings are needed for commericals to
reach revenues of $500 million. Even with that, NBC could lose
$30 million to $40 million because the cable Triplecast has been
NBC paid $401 million for the rights alone, plus $200 million
for production and promotion. That resulted in an over emphasis
on building drama to keep viewers, which has distorted the events
to the point that I'm losing interest.
McKay let us learn the outcome of a competition as it
happened, though it had been taped hours before, but he didn't
tease us with constant delays. Bob Costas has done a solid job as
anchor for NBC, often tempering the phony drama with under
statement, but some of the broadcasters and experts have worn me
out with shouting, emphasizing flaws and silly questions.
Just when it appeared Shannon Miller was getting ready to
perform at Barcelona, for example, NBC cut to commercials, took
us to a swimming race or some such, force fed us more commercials
and finally allowed us to see the crucial vault.
The stories behind the athletes, which ABC called "up close
and personal," are fine in themselves. They give us the
perspective of what it takes to become an Olympic athlete.
That's good, but they don't have to yell in our ears in the
midst of a race that American swimmer Nelson Diebel has overcome
drugs and alcohol. Let us watch the race.
One of the silliest stories in the Barcelona Olympics so far
was that of cyclist Inga Thompson, whose boyfriend has a "life
threatening disease." During the same race, we also heard over
and over about how the cyclists disliked Jeannie Longoprelli of
Longoprelli won as expected, because she clearly was the best
when it came to the pressure moments.
There were others _ broadcaster Charlie Jones reminding us
over and over that swimmer Pablo Morales dedicated his comeback
to his mother, who died of cancer; gymnast Betty Okino, who gets
rough treatment by her coach; and gymnast Trent Dimas had to
overcome a 1991 injury. …