NBC's announcers are hitting some high notes at the Olympics by not hitting too many notes at all. Sandra Bezic's gasp spoke volumes, breaking the silence when Zhao Hongbo almost dropped his wife in the pairs figure skating finale. Zhao and Shen Xue (the best way to deal with these names is to copy and paste from the Associated Press) won the event, even though their teammates, Pang Qing and Tong Jian, skated better. But that's how it goes in hidebound figure skating, where the night's performance combines in the judging with various off-ice stories. Props to the exuberant American skaters, who went breathakingly all out, even if they had no chance to win. They were easier to watch, too, coming at a respectable time in the evening. Live coverage is great, but it also creates an Olympic TV-watching event, the late-night awake-athalon, as viewers struggle to keep eyes pried open way past 11 p.m.
Todd Harris used actual words to convey a concept well at the finish of the snowboard cross: "In a sport where the one thing you can count on is absolutely nothing, Seth Wescott controls his moment of Olympic Gold." Westcott became the first person to win a snowboard event in consecutive Olympics. Snowboard cross is my favorite new event because it's easy to understand and provides plenty of chills and thrills with multiple racers simultaneously on the mountain, and wonderful wide views of the spectacular scenery wherever the Winter Olympics are held. "Artistry, speed and guile are all tested," said Bob Costas, doing a fine anchor job, even if he should stop trying so hard not to look his age, which will be 58 next month.
As a writer, I have tended to concentrate on the words covering the Olympics over the years, but with a decent-sized flat screen and high definition, we are seeing pictures now that overwhelm the sound, and the NBC announcers get that, letting skis and snowboards do more of the chattering.
But it's not all sweetness and light, NBC. There was no place for a product placement promo for a coming feature film cartoon (and there will be no title placement here, Dreamworks). Costas, also clearly offended, almost gagged on the intro. Worse was a half-hour Vancouver travelogue from NBC's LX.TV that aired in many markets, including Philadelphia, and was nothing more than a series of commercials.
The network's doing great in the ratings: More than 30 million viewers for Friday's opening ceremonies, the most ever for a non-American Winter Olympics, and the numbers last night were considerably better than the current prime-time gold standard, American Idol.