Over the last couple weeks, there's been a lot of discussion about how NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics is frustrating. TV critic Alan Sepinwall of the Star-Ledger summarizes it pretty well in his story about how the Olympics have been dominating the ratings:
Ebersol has made NBC the dominant Olympics TV player for nearly 20 years and, in the process, has gotten scores of complaints about his coverage philosophy — in which airing results live isn’t a priority if they won’t be in prime time, in which female-friendly sports like figure skating and ice dancing always take scheduling precedence over the likes of hockey and in which prime-time coverage bounces from event to even without much of a road map.
Ebersol’s argument has always been that the Olympics audience isn’t a classic sports audience — that viewers tune in not because they suddenly care about the Super-G or the biathlon, but because they enjoy the new stories every two to four years. And he continues to insist that viewers want events tape-delayed if it means they can be seen at night when viewers are home from work. (That’s why NBC’s prime-time coverage on the West Coast is 100 percent tape-delayed — and viewers in California are in the same time zone as Vancouver.)
With internet news and streaming becoming so prominent, viewers have become a lot more frustrated this year. The games are happening in the Pacific Time Zone. NBC is spoiling results for games not yet aired on TV on their main Olympic page that viewers have to go through to see the streaming coverage. Why can't they just cover the games live AND air the most marketable ones on a delay in prime time?
Anyway, in 2000, the match for the gold medal in heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestling, Alexander Karelin took on Rulon Gardner. Karelin was Russian and was so dominant that he was undefeated in international competition and hadn't lost a point in the previous six years. Allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs were so rampant that he was nicknamed "The Experiment." Gardner was an American farm boy with a soft, normal physique who had worked as a teacher and lost to Karelin in the 1997 FILA Wrestling World Championships. It was the perfect Ebersol human-interest story, and the coverage suffered for it, with the post-production turning a great moment into a cartoon. Find out why after the jump.
The coverage of the match began with this:
After Bob Costas puts over Karelin's dominance and physical superiority (he was 15 pounds when he was born!), we get clips of Karelin narrated by some guy reciting Karelin quotes about fighting for Russia and all that evil stuff translated to English. I had remembered it as an American doing an evil Russian pro wrestler/Boris Badenov accent, but it was actually worse. The narrator was an American reading it in his regular accent, and his voice was badly manipulated digitally to sound more menacing and (incredibly) vaguely Russian.
Then there was Gardner's profile video and the match itself (yes, I wish the video was better quality):
Inspirational music plays as we see Gardner operate farm equipment and Bob Costas tells us about how awesome he is, how the community rallied to raise money to get his family to Sydney to see their son compete in person, and how neighbors are looking after the Gardner family's barley harvest. Then Chief Henry came back from the grave to give him a headband that said "BEAT VALLEY" on it. I might be remembering that last part wrong.
When the match (which was clipped up by the YouTube uploader) starts, it actually gets a lot more ridiculous. The announcers (including Greco legend and former UFC announcer Jeff Blatnick) scream at the top of their lungs how this is the most important amateur wrestling match ever and how Gardner winning would be as big as the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980. If the content didn't immediately give away that the commentary wasn't done live, then the audio quality certainly did, as it's clear that they were in a studio and not the arena like live commentators. When Karelin breaks his grip and loses the point that ends up costing the match (later noted as an obscure rule by experts), Blatnick calls it almost too quickly. When the match ends, the announcers are still annoyingly loud ("DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES AGAIN?!?!?!?!") but clearly not at all legitimately enthusiastic or surprised, especially compared to the Miracle on Ice. The segment ends with an insert of Gardner's mom calling home and telling someone that he won and to "call everybody," ending this Disney sports movie from hell with a legitimately emotional moment.
I'd say something about Dick Ebersol learning from Vince McMahon when producing Saturday Night's Main Event (which was the first really overproduced WWF TV show), but Saturday Night's Main Event was awesome and this sucked. Darn you to heck Dick Ebersol. Darn you.