KEEPS ON TICKING: I watched a lot of Olympics these last two weeks, and I saw some pretty incredible and laudable things: Vinokourov taking the men's road race to finish his cycling career; the fastest 800-meter race in history (it is possible that every entrant in that race, or at least the first five, set records for their places of finish; that is, the fastest second-place of all time, the fastest third-place, etc.); Kim Yeong-koun putting the hammer down again and again even though everybody knew the ball was coming to her; McKayla Maroney's perfect vault, followed by her meme, followed by her coopting her meme; Usain Bolt continuing to look like a complete alien being once he unfurls his legs (note: I left Gabby Douglas off because I was in a hotel room and missed the all-around, but she did get the iconic photo of the Olympics).
But the most confident, oh-no-you-didn't, finger-wagging show of force at the Olympics?
NBC, of course. I turned on the Games at 9:00 the other night, Tuesday, I think, and they kicked off the hour with a ten minute Mary Carillo piece about Greenwich Mean Time and the invention of the wristwatch. Every single day, NBC packed about twelve hours of competition in a dozen or so sports a day into a four-hour block of tape-delayed highlights, minus maybe 45 minutes or an hour of AT&T and Visa commercials, minus soft-focus athlete profiles, minus previews, replays, parental/coach reaction shots, and pointless sideline interviews (each solemnly commenced with the ceremonial "how does it feel?"), leaving maybe, maybe an hour and a half of actual sports. So for NBC to throw 10 minutes of that away every night on unnecessary Olympic-atmosphere stories was maddening.
But Carillo's time-and-clocks piece wasn't even an atmosphere piece -- it didn't even mention (a) athletes; (b) the Olympics; or (c) sports. NBC can credibly say that the profiles draw in viewers that wouldn't otherwise watch. It can say that people expect the sideline interviews, enjoy the reaction shots, and need the atmosphere pieces to get a sense of the scope and gravity of the Olympics. But who was that piece for? Give me a credible argument that the piece could have improved ratings, benefited advertisers, saved NBC money (how could it have been cheaper to put that piece together than to have aired ten minutes of volleyball/water polo/tae kwon do highlights?) or enhanced any viewer's experience. If I had an ad immediately following that piece, I would be on the phone with my ad sales rep screaming bloody murder.
It seems to me that, by putting on a long dull history piece by a bad sports commentator right in the heart of prime time, NBC was saying something. What it was saying was "we have heard your criticism of our coverage, and we could not be less interested. For two weeks every four years, you will watch whatever we want you to watch. So tune in in four years, when we will kick off every hour with ten minutes of City Council hearings and/or tentacle porn."