If you don't have star power on the ice, bulk up off ice.
NBC is giving a sneak preview of its 2010 Winter Olympics coverage with a multi-tiered assault of anchormen, analysts and rinkside at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships here in St. Paul, Minn.
By bringing in Bob Costas and surrounding him with old standbys such as Dick Button and Scott Hamilton, the network and figure skating brass hope to hide the fact that no one these days actually cares about the sport.
The contract between the International Skating Union and ESPN to broadcast the world championships ends this year. The deal between NBC and the U.S. federation appears to involve Confederate money.
The lack of interest extends to attendance here at the Xcel Energy Center, which has plenty of seats without fans or their fannies. Attendance numbers, traditionally posted daily in the press room, have been absent, and local reporters have been unable to shake them free. Yet, a spokeswoman for the event insisted earlier this week that tickets "are selling like hot cakes."
What a waffle.
Will the championships top attendance of last week's "Pheasants Forever" national convention of 29,800? It could be close.
Into that void steps NBC.
The producer of the show, David Michaels, kid brother of announcer Al, says he wants to make figure skating "seem like a real sport," so he's created a format similar to a football halftime show.
He hopes the facelift shifts commentary and analysis away from the on-ice performances to more of a studio setting.
"It's experimental," he admits. "I hope to hell it works. We want to build a rooting interest in the audience as we get closer to Vancouver in 2010," he says.
It's tough, though, when you don't have much to work with, he says.
There is no Michelle Kwan, "and Kimmie Meissner is never going to be Michelle. She doesn't have the charisma," he says. "U.S. pairs has been at the bottom of the barrel for some time."
Ice dancing with real athletes, he said, shows some promise, is forced to compete against reality shows with none.
That leaves the men. To that end, the network is promoting the rivalry between U.S. champion Evan Lysacek and three-time winner Johnny Weir.
Although the two skaters called a truce on a war of the words--shades of Hillary and Barack--since the skirmish at last year's nationals, it appears it may flare again in a taped interview with Weir that will air tomorrow night.
"We'll be playing on that rivalry. It goes to the essence of what we're trying to do," says Michaels.
So like the U.S. team itself, the broadcast is a work in progress.
"When there's good skating, there's a good show. When there's bad skating, there's a bad show. We're at the mercy of the sport," Michaels says.
The women's final will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. today and the men's final will air live at 7 p.m. tomorrow.