NBC sees big Beijing ahead

Costas expects 'uber-spectacular' opening ceremony

LOS ANGELES -- NBC Sports promised that China is planning to stage the most spectacular opening ceremony ever seen, featuring 15,000 performers and directed by Zhang Yimou ("House of Flying Daggers," "Hero").

"I have been told that no matter how spectacular others have been, and there have been many, that this is uber-spectacular," NBC primetime host Bob Costas said.

"Even if they pull off 75% of their plans, it will truly be over the top and it should be something that that anybody who sees it will never forget," added David Neal, executive producer, NBC Sports.

NBC Universal plans to devote 3,600 hours to the games, which the company said is more than the combined total of every summer Olympics ever televised in the U.S. About 2,900 hours will be live. All 35 sports in 35 venues will be in high definition, down to the lipstick cams embedded in archery targets.

"Regardless of what one may think about China in this point in history, you, as American viewers, will immediately appreciate what this means to almost every citizen of this nation and the national pride that's being brought to bear here," Costas said. "And you'll sense a home field, home court advantage, whatever it might be in a way that -- with the possible exception of Australia in 2000 -- American viewers have not seen for a host Olympics that was not in an American city. China was second to the Americans on the gold medal chart in Athens in 2004. They've been building and building for this. This will be like a Super Bowl atmosphere."

As for handing sensitive political issues or pollution stories, NBC Sports seemed to abdicate that responsibility to NBC News, which will also have a strong presence at the Games.

"NBC News, they're going to be on the air at least three-and-a-half hours a day between 'Nightly News' and the 'Today' show," said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports. "('NBC News' and 'Today' show regular) Dr. Nancy Schneiderman is coming in here very early to work on the pollution story so we're ready whatever way the pollution is here during the games. So if something develops here, if this becomes a news story other than Olympic events, we are certainly ready to cover them. Our primary aim is, as the sole rights holder in the United States, we're the only way you can see the major events of the Games. So we're not going to cavalierly blow out sporting events to cover news."

There were some good follow-up questions that should have been asked of the panel, which appeared via satellite -- especially about the pollution issue. Ebersol's answer seemed to suggest China's pollution is mainly an NBC News story.

In reality it's already a major sports story, with Olympic athletes concerned about their health and ability to perform during the Games taking measures to protect themselves. But NBC cut off the critics. About half of panel was taken up by the NBC Olympics team giving lengthy monologues about the wonders of their efforts, then NBC permitted only five questions from the press.