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NBC coverage is all for self-promotion

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In media circles, it's already tee-off time on NBC's decision to carry all of the Olympics on tape, and while there's a lot of anger, some of it understandable, it is considerably misplaced.

NBC is only following the long established model for carrying the Olympics. By necessity, virtually all of the great moments in recent Olympic history, from Bob Beamon's world record long jump in 1968, to the U.S. hockey team's win over the Soviet Union in 1980 in Lake Placid to Kerri Strug's one-footed landing in Atlanta four years ago were tape delayed.

Logic dictates that with 28 sports being contested, there is no way that NBC could have carried everything or even a lot of things that are of interest to an American audience live, even if there weren't a 15-18 hour time gap between Sydney and the United States.

Rather, sports fans would be much more within their rights to be angry over NBC's relentless use of the Olympics for promotional purposes, just the latest shameless forced marriage of sports and entertainment.

In the real world, what NBC is doing is par for the course these days in sports television. For instance, CBS got back into football as much to introduce shows like "Everybody Loves Raymond" to male viewers as for the glory of showing the game.

But nobody promotes its product to the extent that NBC does. Why, if you didn't know better (wink, wink), you might think that NBC paid all those millions for Olympic rights to showcase its upcoming fall prime-time lineup rather than to air the athletic competitions (nudge, nudge).

Maybe they should just skip the middle man and put "Ed" in the hammer throw, or enter Michael Richards in a kayak and let him float out to sea during one of the races. Heck, don't be surprised if, while we're not watching, reporter Jim Gray doesn't conk swimmer Jenny Thompson on the noggin and replace her with the buoyant Yasmine Bleeth.

What NBC is doing might be a little easier to stomach if its officials, namely sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, weren't being so hypocritical. For instance, Ebersol stubbornly won't permit his production people to put the score and clock up constantly, saying he doesn't want clutter on the screen.

So be it.

Then, why is the network clogging up half the screen with its incessant promos for its Olympic Web site, and why have they colored in and moved up more prominently on the screen its peacock logo and Olympic rings?

But the NBC promotional machine can grind subtly as well as loudly.

Take Friday's opening ceremony, for instance. The network cameras and reporters were sure to search out the U.S. athletes that are bound to be featured during the next couple of weeks.

Wouldn't it have been nice, though, if we could have seen the archers and canoeists and badminton players for whom these Olympics mean the most, as opposed to the already overexposed athletes who are there to boost their marketing profiles?

Even the locals have gotten in on the act. The bleating for Channel 11's news team has already grown wearisome. And, contrary to what you hear in the jingle, it's not about our world and home; it's about the competition we're trying to watch.

Let's hope that by Olympics' end NBC is as accomplished at its Games coverage as it is at shilling for itself.

The good

NBC's work at the swimming venue has been exemplary already, particularly in a technical sense. The underwater "Moby-Cam" has provided good pictures, and the new inventions - the holographic lane identifications and the line that shows whether a swimmer is going at world-record pace - have been helpful.

The bad

Even allowing for the storytelling model that NBC wants to follow for the Games, Saturday's women's triathlon presentation was excessive. From the overly maudlin music to Al Trautwig's overwrought narration, the coverage was over the top.

The curiously annoying

Admittedly, the nuances of soccer are lost on this writer. That said, the call of Andres Cantor, an unpleasant blend of choppy phrases and run-on sentences, delivered at an emotional tone, makes the game that much more unpalatable.

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