Music videos strive to express Olympic spirit


We've known for a long time that NBC is ecstatic to have a Dream Team Olympics.

And it makes ratings sense for the network to pursue female viewers with a family Olympics strategy that shuns sports such as boxing and spotlights more women's events.

But how about the way NBC is turning segments of its coverage into the VH-1 Olympics? Is that Eric Clapton in shape or what?

Each day, the network presents at least one made-to-order music video that blends the songs of popular recording artists with highly stylized sports photography.

Jackson Browne meets Olga Korbut. Marc Cohn serenades Pablo Morales. D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince rap for Michael Jordan.

You don't want to see it? You don't want to hear it? You thought those things were commercials?

Your loss. These videos work. These videos soar.

In large part, they're the reflection of Jesse Vaughan's vision and stamina. He is the 33-year-old director-producer hired by NBC to oversee all the videos. Although Mr. Vaughan did plenty of pre-Olympic filming and screening, the job has boiled down to putting together 18 videos in a three-week period.

Weary but not worn out, Mr. Vaughan explained from Barcelona earlier this week that it normally takes six days to edit one video.

"I like doing things that people think are impossible to do," he said, noting he's getting about 4 1/2 hours of sleep a day. Or 4 1/2 hours of tossing and turning, to be more precise.

What the videos do for viewers is capture the spirit of the Olympics, in one aspect or another, through the power of music that's mingled with intense images. Stories like those of Mr. Morales, the comeback swimmer inspired by the memory of his late mother, are irresistible subject matter.

A new Cohn song, "Old Soldier," was combined with posed, black-and-white footage of Mr. Morales in solitary moments, in and out of the pool.

"You're not getting no younger, that much is true now.

"But you still got that hunger, burning in you now.

"So what do you do now . . . what do you do now?"

It was an exquisite introduction to the July 27 coverage of the 100-meter butterfly race. What Mr. Morales did was win, providing what might be the most emotional gold-medal moment of the Summer Games.

"The creative challenge is to visually marry the athlete with the artist," Mr. Vaughan said. "The athletes are artists, too. The canvas just happens to be the basketball court or the swimming pool."

Because the project is part of a huge cross-promotion for Coca-Cola and Warner Music Group, Mr. Vaughan and NBC are battling the perception that the videos are just a prelude to the Coke commercial following each one.

Mr. Vaughan said Coke and Warner provided the recording artists, but that he is an NBC employee. And the network said the music videos, which also include some non-Warner entertainers, come out of the time available for sports programming, rather than the minutes reserved for commercials and NBC promos.

The heart of the Coke tie-in is the chance for consumers to win samples of the music, some of which is new and some of which was written specifically for the Olympics, by buying specially marked bottles and packs. Warner gets prime-time exposure for a diverse array of its artists and has a 17-song compact disc and cassette tape in stores called "Barcelona Gold," featuring a large part of the music NBC is using.

What doesn't exist is an opportunity to buy the videos, but Mr. Vaughan said there's a possibility they may be collected for rebroadcast or sale. He said they might even show up on, yes, VH-1.

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