In Olympics coverage, NBC stumbles out of the block | MCUTimes

In Olympics coverage, NBC stumbles out of the block

Fans of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” will remember those disastrous dinner parties. No matter how much host Mary Richards tried, she was doomed to fail.

NBC can certainly relate. The odds of the network pulling off enthralling coverage of the Tokyo Olympics are roughly the same as Lou Grant and Ted Baxter medaling in synchronized swimming. Everything is working against the TV coverage: the time-zone difference, a lack of riveting rivalries and, of course, the COVID-19 protocol that allows few spectators in stands.

In addition, the Games’ biggest superstar, Simone Biles, pulled out of early events and the second-biggest name, Naomi Osaka, was eliminated early in the tennis competition.

Interest has been dismal. NBC averaged fewer than 17 million viewers last Sunday, a 44% drop from the first Sunday of the Rio Games. The Opening Ceremony was down 36%. The only way those numbers will turn around is if Michael Phelps escapes from the broadcast studio and jumps back into the pool.

NBC is going overboard to pretend it’s been dealt a winning hand. During the Opening Ceremony, anchor Savannah Guthrie gushed over an epic drone display like she was witnessing Michelangelo putting the finishing touches on the Sistine Chapel. When Biles pulled out of the teams gymnastics final, Hoda Kotb junked her journalism credentials and played big sister, telling each of the gymnasts that she loved them.

The broadcasters seem desperate to make up for the lack of in-person cheerleaders. I appreciate analysts taking the time to explain the rules, but too many times I wished they would have clamped down on the chatter.

One of the advantages of this year’s Olympics is that the venues are quiet enough that viewers can pick up the athletes’ conversations on the sidelines and hear sounds from the competition that is usually drowned out by fans. But it was often impossible to appreciate the audio over the incessant yapping.

NBC also is banking on video from families cheering on their loved ones from America, a bonus that’s not nearly as thrilling as it might have seemed on paper.

Only the sight of residents in Seward, Alaska, going nuts when its swimmer Lydia Jacoby won the gold in the 100-meter breast stroke registered as a great TV moment.

I realize NBC is facing unprecedented restrictions, but I wish the network would try harder to cover Tokyo and recognize that the majority of its residents disapprove of the Games taking place during a national health crisis.

One of the rare attempts to show us the city had the “Today” anchors doing a bus tour of the local sights, but the segment ended up mostly as an excuse for the personalities to make fun of Japan’s version of a Frappuccino.

There have been some winning moments. The documentary “Golden,” airing on the Peacock streaming service, does an excellent job of showing how difficult it was for gymnasts like Suni Lee to make the U.S. team, a journey even more fascinating now that the St. Paul native has won the all-around gold.

Comedian Amber Ruffin’s commentaries have been charming, but infrequent.

NBC should consider using her more in the second week. If you’re destined to host a disappointing party, at least you can do it with a few more laughs.

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