David Zurawik

NBC Sports delivers again on Preakness coverage

BALTIMORE, MD -- 5/17/14 --  The NBC Sports camera follows Jockey Victor Espinoza and California Chrome after they won the 139th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.

If one of the hallmarks of true greatness is consistency, NBC Sports is a truly great operation, because again, it came, it covered, it turned in another top-notch Preakness telecast.

Covering a horse race for a mainstream audience is not nearly as easy as NBC Sports makes it look.


Among the hardest parts is holding the attention of enough general viewers to earn respectable ratings, while talking to the hardcore horse-race aficionados who are your base audience for such events.

To maintain credibility with the latter, you have to give prominent airtime to your horse racing insiders and experts. And as much as you might try to dress those folks up for a mainstream audience, there's always a whiff of "Guys and Dolls" to them -- at least to me by the standards of mainstream sports telecasts.


But NBC Sports walks the tightrope of giving plenty of airtime to the horse racing folks without blowing off general viewers by putting Bob Costas at the top of the on-air pyramid and Drew Esocoff in the director's chair.

Almost no one in the television industry knows how to package sports as mainstream entertainment as well as these two by the nature of their work on "NBC Sunday Night Football," the highest rated series on TV.

I have sung the praises of these guys many times, because they are so consistently good -- Costas with his easygoing delivery of wise observations on culture and sports, and Esocoff with his ability to fuse images, analysis, onfield audio and music into packages that state, amplify and illuminate story lines and major narratives.

So, I'll take a pass on praising them today. But I do have to say that co-ordinating producer Rob Hyland and Esocoff deserve special recognition for the incredible co-ordination and timing that they brought to Pimlico Saturday.

The positioning of the cameras on the track was superb. For one of the first times in my life, I could so clearly see the frontrunning horses as they came out of the last turn that I could almost feel their surge and thrust.

And the reaction shots once California Chrome took the second leg of the Triple Crown were like clockwork -- from a tearful co-owner with his Stetson hat over his eyes, to the brother of the jockey still jumping out of his suit in joy, to the horse and jockey as they triumphantly made their way along the track.

NBC Sports also made Pimlico -- and, by extension, Baltimore -- look great Saturday. That's not part of the deal. Broadcasters certainly have no obligation to do that.

But as someone who has been writing about Baltimore's, um, rather complicated TV image for two decades, let me add a note of thanks for that.