NBC gets a lot of flak for editing the Olympics into bite-sized bits and shaping its own narrative to suit the American mindset.
In truth, maybe this isn’t such a bad idea. For NBC and its viewers.
One of the abiding inevitabilities of any Olympics is the complaint that NBC is shirking the job of in-depth coverage while the Canadian broadcaster, whether CBC or CTV, is the standard-bearer for substantial coverage.
Well, perhaps it’s true. And why wouldn’t it be? Most of the complaints come from Canada, or from Canadians living in the U.S. The mass American audience doesn’t actually care much about winter sports. Maybe, you know, NBC knows its business and business model and is succeeding, while not caring a whit about complainers. Maybe the inevitable outbreak of NBC-bashing is an outbreak of what we can call smug Canadianism.
NBC didn’t broadcast the opening ceremonies live. If you turned into a local NBC station last Friday you saw infomercials promoting contraptions to make you sleep better. Friday night, in prime time, NBC unleashed an edited version of the ceremonies. It took bits out and left bits in.
At least viewers were spared the sound of Ron MacLean attempting to summarize the plot of War and Peace while a ballet version unfolded on the screen. Alarmed by the lack of NHL references, he did stumble a bit.
What agitated some is that NBC cut short the speech by IOC president Thomas Bach on the matter of tolerance. To critics, the network replied, “The IOC President’s comments were edited for time, as were other speeches, but his message got across very clearly.” NBC also cut an appearance by Sochi’s giant bear mascot, footage of the Olympic torch in space and those Russian cops singing Get Lucky. It was the last item that seemed to rile Americans who complain about such things and take to Twitter to do it. So NBC put the cops on the Today show and got great mileage from it.
It was probably a bad idea to cut off Bach’s speech, but it’s not as if the man’s windy exhortations about athletes being tolerant had the slightest impact on the ogre Vladimir Putin.
Fact is, most American viewers like having a packaged Olympic highlights program when they get home from work. They are not obsessing about speed skating or the women’s luge all day. They want to see some action, some American winners and find out something about Russia from familiar TV hosts. They don’t care if CBC is doing live curling while NBC’s Bob Costas has the nerve to end the day’s coverage by doing an interview with David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, about the political evolution of Russia. This happened late Monday night.
And there’s an interesting point – something substantial was being broadcast on NBC. “We can fall into terrible habits of rhetoric and behaviour,” Remnick said of American attitudes toward Russia. Meanwhile, simultaneously on CBC, viewers were being told just how great Canada’s women are at curling. But we knew that. Before the Remnick chat, NBC did a lovely piece about Canadian moguls skier Alex Bilodeau and his brother Fredric.
Part of the problem Americans are having with NBC is Bob Costas. He has an eye infection and his face looks puffy. He soldiers on. This seems to disgust a portion of the audience. And there is the NBC set in Sochi, which looks like something from a Superman movie. These are the most superficial of complaints.
On Monday a Canadian Press story mentioned “a groundswell of NBC-targeted rage” and cited a person in the U.S. whose Canadian partner wanted to see certain coverage from Sochi and was angry at NBC for not providing it. The story told us the “desperate household has purchased a Canadian IP address to stream CBC coverage instead.” Well, yay for Canada and Canadians, but this sort of news story is an inevitable as a story in midsummer that declares, “Phew, its hot!” A Twitter account cited by CP, @NBCFail, has precisely 574 followers as of Tuesday morning.
NBC never promised to deliver everything live to everybody. It knows that its core audience will get bored with curling. It knows that sometimes it’s best to wrap up the taped coverage and just declare who won. That’s show business, with the emphasis on the “business” side of it.
What happens during the Winter Games as the medals mount for Canada, is that we get smug. We’re good at smug, just as we’re good at knowing our winter games. You could say we “fall into terrible habits of rhetoric and behaviour.” NBC doesn’t care, nor should it.
Somewhere at NBC HQ, if they’re paying attention at all, there’s an amused exec thinking, “Canada, get over yourselves”. And they are correct.
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