After these messages, NBC will go for gold with more of same

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"Back after these messages . . ."

Are there any more terrifying words in the English language, words that simultaneously elicit anger, disgust, exasperation, a total feeling of helplessness bordering on despair?

Probably not, although "Greetings," to prospective members of the armed forces, "the check is in the mail," and "we regret to inform you" are in the running.

Perhaps you noticed these words became so much more prevalent the last several nights as NBC's coverage of the Olympics rumbles by. Lately, in prime time, the network has gone so far as to cut anchor Bob Costas out of the normal flow of things as, obviously, it has been able to sell the time usually reserved for the studio host.

Paying a rights fee of $401 million and with production costs adding at least another $100 million, it was expected the net would be loading up on "messages." But the combination of just plain lousy, run-of-the-mill ads, repeated endlessly and the fragmented events scheduling have almost turned viewing into a chore.

Here's a typical hour from any of the nights this week: Dream Team pushing hamburgers, fries and a soft drink. Yawn. Seinfeld (promo) speculating on what events were included in the ancient pentathlon -- "400-meter emperor stab." Smile. A booze ad, Coke, Taco Bell and something with the tag line "Supreme Me."

After a couple of vaults from gymnastics, Red Lobster, Batman prizes, Coke, Snickers ice cream bar, cold Miller Lite and our assurance that Sally Thorner is a friend we can turn to. Then it's Clairol, a guy driving a truck gets lost and refuses to ask directions, Seiko, the time piece of the Games, MCI, Pittsburgh Paint and Paula Abdul dancing with Groucho Marx (?).

Hey, lookie here, a foot race. It's only 100 meters, though, so it's over quickly and it's back to a guy throwing food all over a kitchen for General Electric, two promos for NBC shows this fall and Abdul again, no more than five minutes after the fine skit played previously. "Rhythm & Blues" looks like a Class-A stinker, doesn't it?

Around the half-hour, they toss in some action to give channel-switchers the idea coverage isn't wall-to-wall commercials, but then its back to a promo, network and local, and local ads: Luskin's, the Marylander who features a crabcake sandwich at a McDonald's, a station ID, Beat the Pro and Sally again pushing a baby carriage. The inevitable dead spot before Channel 2 rejoins the network means WMAR wasn't able to unload the air time. Call Jack Luskin.

Two or three more pixies do a routine on the parallel bars, we're assured Leroy Burrell will run the century before the week is up and it's back to Michael Jordan pushing everything but Zanfir on the pan flute, Coke, J.C. Penney hinting you're unpatriotic if you don't buy from it, Coke, Bud Light, American Express, Coke again, Saturn, Massengill, promo, "The Games in Song," Postal Service, dog food, Reebok, Delco, Cadillac, James Earl Jones in a diner and a guy named Dave insisting Cheddar is Beddar at Wendy's. At this point, 50 whacks across the feet with a rubber hose would be a relief.

The bad thing about it is, come the next hour, these very same ads will be coming at you in approximately the same order of display.

Note there have been more than a few Coca-Cola ads from the onset. All told, over the 16 Days of Peddling, there will be a hundred of them going for a total cost of $33 million. Henceforth, the C in NBC will stand for Coke.

These days, Super Bowl advertisers are paying upward of $700,000 for a 30-second spot, so they head for Madison Avenue and at least try to come up with entertaining and memorable ads. Olympic advertisers are paying a healthy $330,000 per half-minute, yet they're pretty much going with old stuff, which angers, exasperates, etc. Weird.

What it all adds up to is athletic competition, the supposed focal point of this quadrennial party, isn't even getting half the air time. Worse, more than 90 percent of the scant action is taped. You don't suppose this is the 1960 Olympics in Rome we're watching, do you?

* There's only a couple of things wrong with new NHL chief Gil Stein's idea to have players take up residence at the Winter Olympics to popularize the league and gain it TV riches: VVTC modified plan is in existence, hockey gets borderline ratings at the Games, the United States wouldn't win (so what's the use) and there's already a Canada Cup and the world championships, which go pretty much unnoticed.

* This Eric Griffin caper is getting out of hand. A judgment call is being used as the basis for a threatened lawsuit to recover "emotional and monetary damages" for the beaten junior flyweight boxer. Even Little Leaguers know you can't argue judgment calls. Evander Holyfield, who lost a gold medal through a strange quirk of fate, gave Griffin great advice when he counseled him to forget it and move on to the pros. There he'll no doubt learn about really raw deals.

* What planet do you surmise Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanisevic has been visiting for the last few years? Of his strong showing in the tennis tourney, which has pretty much escaped NBC cameras, the Wimbledon finalist says, "All those fighters fighting for the freedom of Croatia are going to be more motivated now, and they're going to try to end the war. This medal [Goran is assured of] will pump them up."

* Latest on the endangered species of Olympic sports, joining weightlifting and boxing, is the equestrian events. I, for one, would hate to see them go. One of my fondest memories of the Games was watching Princess Anne fall off her horse during the dressage at the 1976 Games in Montreal. She showed real spunk during the interview afterward.

* Was that Katie Couric's hard news edge showing on the morning show when she casually informed partner Dick Enberg that 60,000 condoms would be distributed at the athletes village over the course of the Games?

* When Mark McKoy of Canada won the 110-meter high hurdles Monday night, many sought to recall how he fled Seoul right after the Ben Johnson doping scandal broke, later admitting that he had experimented with steroids. I go back to the first World Indoor Championships in Indianapolis several years ago when Mark had a chance to win the title but was sent sprawling when Greg Foster veered into his lane. McKoy dismissed it as "breaks of the game."

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