Saturday, February 8, 2014
Highlights from coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics:
BRAIN POWER: New Yorker editor David Remnick was an inspired choice to join Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira in the booth for NBC's coverage of the opening ceremony. He has a deep knowledge of and respect for Russian history and was able to explain how the nuances of the production related to the political and literary traditions. Small touches, like explaining how a musical interlude recalled the opening music of the Soviet-era nightly newscast, were fascinating. Just as important, he didn't back away from pointing out aspects of history that were skipped over.
MALFUNCTIONING SNOWFLAKE: When a giant snowflake failed to morph into one of the Olympic rings early in the ceremony, Russian TV viewers didn't see it. Producers quickly switched to a rehearsal tape where it did work. NBC neither ignored reality nor lingered on the glitch. "This is what happens when you're this ambitious on a show like this," Lauer said. "That's too bad."
A, B, C, WHATEVER: Vieira gave up trying to explain how the nuances of the Cyrillic alphabet made for what must have seemed to Americans an oddly-ordered march of nations as the athletes filed in. "If you need more information, Google it," she said.
OH, MATT: Lauer's no lightweight, but this attempt at a transition was cringeworthy: "Imperialist Russia is about to be swept away by two important events — the Russian revolution and this commercial break."
BREAKFAST DATE: How many men appreciated Lauer's "full disclosure" that he had breakfast with Maria Sharapova?
CARRYING A TORCH: On the other hand, props to Lauer for pointing out when Russian athlete Alina Kabayeva carried the Olympic torch in the ceremony that she "according to all reports (was) involved in a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
OHNO: Former speed skating star Apolo Ohno, now a member of NBC's team, shows real promise. He looked relaxed and his very brief segment on what American team members were likely feeling as they marched into the stadium gave an astute athlete's-eye view.
JIMMY: Less than an hour into Friday's coverage came the first promotion for the post-Jay Leno "Tonight" show, this one featuring Jimmy Fallon "performing" an ice skating routine with the Roots serving as his judges. Get ready for many more.
INTRO: Peter Dinklage was the guest voice for NBC's show-opening set piece about Russia. Absolutely gorgeous photography. But writers burdened him with a bloated commentary that tried to wrap the games in epic terms. Relax.
MORE INTRO: Bob Costas' interview with President Barack Obama actually elicited some candid commentary on the president's relationship with Putin, at least more than you usually get. Obama said reporters sometime misinterpreted "public style of looking bored during interviews" as hostility.
STILL MORE INTRO: Mary Carillo's "tour" of Sochi with Sharapova belonged elsewhere. It unnecessarily delayed what people tuned in to see.
TWEET: "12 years ago I was in labor during the Olympics. It was less painful than sitting through this NBC buildup," was one woman's message over Twitter.
PRE-OPENING: NBC's bonus night of prime-time Olympics competition the night before Friday's opening ceremony was seen by 20 million viewers, according to a preliminary estimate by the Nielsen company. Since the audience was about five times the size of NBC's typical Thursday night fare, the network is pleased. It's a smaller audience than all but one night of the 2010 Vancouver games, however, perhaps a recognition that all the events were preliminary in nature.
EARLY TWEETS: Of the 5.2 million tweets about the Olympics during the seven days leading up the games, the most originated from Japan. Twitter says Russia came in second and the Netherlands third. The United States was seventh — just behind Turkey. Three of the six athletes most followed on Twitter heading into the games are from the U.S., led by snowboarder Shaun White.