Tim Goodman: Why I'm Not Complaining About NBC's Olympics Coverage
THR's TV critic says NBC deserves a whole lot of credit for shelling out over $4 billion for rights to the next four Games.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
As a critic and very often an unrelenting complainer of television, the Olympics represent something you really and truly have to train for. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to complain out loud for that long. It’s exhausting.
And yet, I didn’t even bother this time around. Do I hate the tape delays? Yes. The editing? Yes. The schmaltzy packages? Sure, sometimes (other times they’re moving). The extended flashbacks to previous Olympics when the time could be better spent on something that’s happening right then? Yes. Ryan Seacrest? Yes. Bob Costas? No. You try doing that job, and then you can bitch about it.
Could NBC be doing better? Hell yes. And if ABC did it, the answer would be hell yes again. CBS, too. Fox, as well. ESPN for sure. If you created your dream team of announcers and wrote out a Magna Carta-esque charter on the absolutely perfect way to produce an Olympics, guess what? People would complain. A lot. And for a long time. And with searing specificity. The result is you would cry or hate the world or jump off a bridge.
So I’m not complaining about NBC and the Olympics. Soon I might start to complain about people complaining about it. It’s tiring. And repetitive. And it will not help. The Olympics will never, ever be broadcast in real time unless the United States government foots the bill and tells PBS to turn the cameras on and go home. Yeah, good luck with that. You’d hate that, too. And PBS would probably find a way to sneak some pledge breaks in right when Usain Bolt is winning the 100 meters or Missy Franklin is smiling so innocently and sweetly it’s like she was created in a lab for primetime perfection. You’d be at work when Gabby Douglas got on the Wheaties box. and you’d complain it didn’t happen while you were home eating dinner with your family.
Stupid PBS, you’d say. And why is the government wasting a billion-plus on sports?
See? You’ll never be happy. And guess what? If you live on the West Coast, everything is tape-delayed to death, whether it’s Atlanta or Vancouver, and our whining goes for naught. You cannot hit your head against the will infinitely. It will crack open and bleed, and you’ll be in pain -- in addition to being disgruntled about tape delays.
And so I accept it. Hey, remember Barcelona in 1992 and that pay-per-view Triplecast idea? Yeah, terrible. But as much as it pains you, give NBC a little credit for going on a massive buying spree, acquiring all kinds of cable channels that now show you things like steeplechase and badminton and whatever else is curious and awesome.
Part of the reason I’m not complaining is that I love the Olympics. NBC can’t break me. I will watch hours and hours of the Olympics. I will tape-delay them myself for further consumption. I will watch the primetime package because I know that’s how NBC pays the bills. And oh, by the way, NBC shelled out more than $4 billion -- that’s $4 billion you, me and the government do not have -- for the rights to the Olympics in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020.
I’m exhausted just thinking of all the complaining for the next 18 years. I don’t have it in me to add to the chorus or, frankly, to listen to it.
So I will play the game as it’s presented to me. I’ll watch as much Lolo Jones and Logan Tom as I can find, and there’s nothing you can do to shame me about it. I’ll watch Team USA basketball almost against my will. I’ll be the one to decide when I’ve seen enough interviews with Michael Phelps. See? There is some control on the part of the viewer.
As for spoilers -- we are not Luddites. Look, I love Twitter. But I know better than to be on it when there are sports events I don’t want spoiled. For the Olympics? Well, I can’t be off it that long, so some things will be spoiled. I will watch them anyway. I will watch Bolt and the U.S. swimmers and whatever else they’ve decided to package. Hell, I watched the U.S. women’s soccer match live -- tremendous television! -- and I will watch it again, edited for highlights.
Despite glitches in NBC’s streaming services, that’s a helpful addition. I don’t begrudge NBC trying to get its money back and package the saccharine. I don’t worry about spoilers because in our world, it’s not just Twitter that spoils things. Sometimes its Today show promos. Sometimes it’s co-workers. Or Facebook posts. Or text messages. Or people behind you in line at the café. It happens.
Hell, NBC said spoilers are driving ratings up. And it knows that despite complaints, most people think the tape delays are fine. It knows people who need to know right now will watch its live streams. Ratings are great. NBC has the Olympics for the next 18 years, nobody has $4.4 billion to steal them away and, well, I’ve got bigger things to worry about. And also to complain about -- you should see the NBC fall schedule.
So, I watch what I can because I love all the obscure sports. I watch the women’s marathon start to finish. I watch badminton and archery. I refused to watch steeplechase, so I turn it. I was mesmerized by the trampoline nuttiness. I mute Seacrest. I do what I have to do to enjoy this little slice of Olympic beauty.
See, the Olympics come every two years. I wait in expectation. I watch everything I can when it’s on because I love sports, I love competition, and I love both victory and defeat.
I also love complaining. But I know when it’s pointless.
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