It’s easy and vicious sport to make fun of Olympics coverage - summer or winter. And yes, this year CBS has been particularly inept in Nagano. But it’s time for the whining to stop.
It’s easy to say that CBS wasn’t skilled at filling time when events were canceled. Or that the network should have had a better game plan for the 17-hour time difference on the West Coast (14 hours on the East Coast).
It’s easy to say that the relative lack of American gold has hurt the coverage. It’s easy to say that there are too many commercials, that many of the former athlete announcers are much too far out of their element, that hiring Kennedy from MTV was a horrible idea and that CBS’s reliance on figure skating is myopic. Fine. Agreed. Now get over it.
There are some great TV gems at the Winter Olympics. And let’s face it - a blanket critique of CBS just isn’t fair. They’ve done some exemplary work in Nagano. The same goes for TNT, which is airing the early-afternoon portion. So let’s move past armchair grenade lobbing and get to a simple truth: There’s nothing quite like the Olympics on television, and once you’re involved in the marathon TV coverage, you’re bound to find events and stories that move you, that make the kind of TV memories you rarely get from standard sitcoms or dramas.
The key is getting into it. Of watching all the time for those unexpected moments. Here are a few:
The pre-packaged features from CBS and TNT. Great stuff. A basic fact of TV viewing is that the more you know about someone the more interested you are. From the Bosnian luger who was bullet riddled but still game for the race to, of all people, Pasha, the newly created name for the former Oksana Grishuk, who has taken egotism and freaky behavior to an entirely new level. Or how about Charles Osgood’s piece on the “marathon monks”? Brilliant.
If you’ve become an Olympics junkie, you’ve gotten past all of the obvious shortcomings and focused on the sports, as it should be.
There you’ll find that feeling which makes this 17-day event so special. The Olympics make TV moments. They happen daily. Even if it’s fleeting - the face of a Japanese mother crying because her son broke a world record, if only temporarily - it’s still magical.
Pessimists see the technical gaffes, the insipid commentary, the reliance on figure skating while underestimating our interest in fringe sports. But anyone who jumped on this train from the Opening Ceremony onward knows that White Ring, M-Wave, Big Hat, Hakuba, Shiga Kogen and all the others hold the promise of something visually entertaining, something emotionally valuable, despite it all.
They even brought Charles Kuralt back from the dead the other day, to muse again about mountains. And who couldn’t watch again and again as they show close-ups of all those cute kids? There’s a lot of good TV in Nagano. Let it come to you.