The TV Repairman:
Everybody generally talks a good game when preparing to televise an Olympics, saying over and over that the sport, the athletes, the action is the top priority.
As a matter of fact, Mark Harrington, CBS vice president for the Games, said a short while back, "We learned an important lesson in Albertville a couple of years ago: This is a one-host event. Set the scene and get out to the venues."
While the network has had trouble following its own advice, although it improved considerably last night over the previous evening, TNT is the operation that lives by this cardinal rule.
All set and raring to go for the first of its nine five-hour afternoon shows yesterday, the cable gang engaged in just minimal introductory chit-chat before showing skiers cascading down a mountain. Better yet, the first break for commercials didn't come for 15 minutes . . . and the second stoppage wasn't for another 10 minutes.
While waiting for live action to begin in the second hour, Nick Charles, Fred Hickman & Co. ran out some excellent taped packages of events already completed.
While it's true even those with scant interest probably were aware American Tommy Moe had won the downhill ski event Sunday, TNT came up with an intriguing segment showing Moe visualizing his run down the course to the accompaniment of pictures.
"Dropoff, jump, right, left traverse, aerodynamics, full turn, get there," the gold medalist muttered as the two-mile course fell before the camera. Then he looked up with a smile and said, "top three would be nice." It linked the viewer with the competitor nicely.
News of Dan Jansen blowing out in the 500-meter speed skating event and Duncan Kennedy doing likewise in the men's luge didn't have pictures, CBS reserving them for showing in prime time, but here again what TNT provided was just about all you wanted to know.
Just a glimpse at the first two runs of Georg Hackl and Markus Prock down the luge run let you know these two weren't about to be opposed seriously for the gold and silver medals.
The first hour was lively, interesting and full of people doing things besides talking and next came was a live game to further enrich things. A whole game, no less.
And it was a game that well could go down in hockey history as the one that signaled the end of Russia as the power of Olympic hockey.
Winner of eight of 10 gold medals since joining the Games in 1952 (the United States has the other two, in 1960 and 1980), Russia was soundly thrashed by Finland, 5-0. Oh, how good the Finns had to feel, particularly those who recalled the Motherland simply marching across the border and taking over.
Beside the dispatch with which the game was played -- yes, hockey can be a two-hour game if played properly -- announcers Jiggs McDonald and Joe Micheletti did a fine job of filling us in on the significance of this shocker.
While the spacing of the commercials seems so much better on cable, undoubtedly because there are far fewer of them, TNT doesn't take advantage of the situation as networks do by piling on the self-promotion.
After the game, with a minimum of fanfare and needless trips back to the studio, TNT wrapped up a 30K men's cross country race with just the right amount of attention and gave viewers just about every pairs team anybody would want to see.
"We'll be back to put a bow on today's package," Nick Charles said as the five hours wound down. The fact that it seemed about half that long tells you something.
As mentioned, CBS was much improved last night over Sunday, but somebody at the network is going to have to take the bull by the horns and tell the Olympic production team that the Games aren't the "Life and Times of Dan Jansen."
For years now they've been profiling Jansen as almost a pitiful character, bringing in Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes" for the latest "Profile in Courage," assuring the thing has gone beyond parody. And poor Dan has another race to butcher Friday night.
While it's true talking heads are rarely a substitute for event action, there are times when something calls for astute analysis.
For instance, it was announced that Garth Snow will be replacing Mike Dunham in goal when the U.S. takes on Slovakia in hockey today, and the move was given little more than cursory mention.
Given more than a few seconds to assess the situation, no doubt analyst John Davidson would have pointed out how seemingly disinterested Dunham appeared in the tie game against France Sunday, how inconsistent he has been for the past month and how absolutely essential it is that a team have a hot goalie going for it if at all possible.
* We've all had in excess of a couple of days to work on it, so has anyone come up for an explanation of what "yoicking" was during the opening ceremonies in Lillehammer Saturday evening?
Recall, a man dressed up as Santa Claus stood in the middle of the stadium and bellowed incoherently as reindeer trotted around him in a circle. Was it a complaint that he had missed last call?
Anyway, suddenly he was on skis and hitching a ride behind a reindeer out of the enclosure, whereupon he was deposited in a snowdrift outside.