The Olympic flame is lit during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
I finally got around to watching the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics last Saturday. I had the unique opportunity of watching it with my roommates, which made the experience more enjoyable and offered some insights that I may not have seen by myself.
We got pulled into the event when my roommate asked about the infamous Olympic rings malfunction. I quickly switched from a repeat of men’s curling to show the moment, along with the rest of the event. Although I knew what would happen, the others in my viewing party were intrigued to watch the flying stars coalesce and have four of the five expand properly into the rings.
In the end, the ring malfunction was certainly noteworthy, but there were many, many other aspects to remember. Some portions of the artistic presentation were draggy (and I was often quick, perhaps too quick, to announce the three times where I initially skipped some segments during my first, partial viewing).
We were all dazzled by the deployment of dozens of video projectors to seamlessly turn the arena floor into a giant screen. The graphics were vivid and the actors’ movements juxtaposed with the video made for an excitingly dynamic display.
Some of the more trippy moments included the segment with the soldiers marching through a shifting historical line map of St. Petersburg, especially when there were explosions that appeared to come from canon in a fortress.
Characters perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip )
The arena seemed to disappear when a star field was displayed toward the end of the event. At one point, my roommate remarked that he couldn’t tell where the stadium floor was. The star field was part of a well-done display where a constellation of athletes was suspended midair. The use of an enormous and sophisticated gantry system was responsible for all the gigantic and fanciful objects flying through air and largely worked (aside from the aforementioned ring malfunction).
While I definitely enjoy watching sports and related events live, it’s certainly nice to have it on a digital video recorder. We were able to easily skip past some segments (like the two interviews with tennis player/Olympic torchbearer Maria Sharapova), while briefly touching on key points like how odd President Obama looked during his interview with Bob Costas.
I felt like a bit of a know-it-all about some portions of the event because I watched parts of it and read articles online. I could envision this might be how NBC announcers feel, especially since they have some advance documentation of what’s scheduled to happen.
The superlong Parade of Nations sped by at 4x speed while we paused on highlight countries, like Canada, the U.S. and Russia. We also made stops at Mexico to point out athlete Hubertus von Hohenlohe was set to compete in a mariachi-inspired skiing uniform, Germany with their great dayglo rainbow uniforms and the Indians competing as Independent Olympic Participants (due to a corruption scandal). I was able to use the giant floor map of each nation to point out the differences between the two Olympic languages (English and French) and Russian with its Cyrillic alphabet.
As the event wound down, we were definitely ready for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. I wasn’t favorable to giving some of the torchbearing honors to athletes who didn’t compete in the Winter Olympics, but I relented when I considered how the event can honor all of Russia’s sports accomplishments.
Still, I was heartened to see the final two torchbearers were Winter Games vets — pairs skater Irina Rodnina and hockey goalie Vladislav Tretiak. As the pair ran, I realized they were headed outside through a giant set of doors and remarked they had a long way to go. It was a nice touch that they ran past the performers, volunteers and staff who helped pull off a wonderful ceremony.
Rodnina and Tretiak finally made it to the base of the outdoor cauldron and, together, they set off a sequence of mini-flames that jumped up the monument’s spine and brought the main cauldron to life. We were satisfied with the launch of these Olympics as fireworks erupted around the cauldron, the arena and the Olympic center.
More than a week later, the Opening Ceremony seem to have been a superb introduction to the sporting events we’ve since seen. The execution of the events seems similar to the opening — plenty of polish with some grandiose displays, but there are some things around the edges worth noticing (like sparse snow in some areas). It will be interesting to see how the Russians wrap things up with the Closing Ceremony on Sunday.
• We really, really loved the floor video projection. I wondered if there’s a way to incorporate this projector technology into sporting events. For example, less than half a football field is in active use at any given time during a game. It might be tricky, but it would dynamic to show replays or stats on the turf. I don’t know how well this technology works in daylight, but it clearly succeeded in an indoor setting so I could see possibilities for basketball, hockey or curling.
• The segment on the Soviet era was interestingly avant-garde. We all enjoyed when one of the NBC commentators noted the Art Deco steam train that floated overhead was a commonly understood symbol of propaganda. “All aboard the propaganda train!” a roommate quipped.
• Others have remarked that the event had a perhaps excessive nostalgia for the Soviet era, yet forgetful of the reign of tyrants like Joseph Stalin who engaged in brutal purges and other policies that affected millions. We shouldn’t forget those who perished or suffered under Sovietism, but I was shocked to be reminded that 20 million Russians lost their lives during World War II.
• Finally, NBC should be dinged for the extremely dubious decision to once again cut the Olympic Oath segment from its broadcast (taken this time by Russian short track speed-skater Ruslan Zakharov). As I opined during the London Games where NBC also cut it, the brief oath is impactful as one athlete pledges on behalf of all that they will compete fairly and drug free in the spirt of true sportsmanship. I swear, it’s only 54 words:
In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.
Amid all the pageantry, I think it’s important to not lose sight of such a key element of the Games. It’s such a short portion of the program (and it’s a required segment of the ceremonies), it’s baffling why NBC continually chooses to cut this.
“Live – NBC” Something West Coast viewers saw only briefly during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. For this year’s London games, seeing such a thing may almost be a mirage.
During the Calgary Winter Games in 1988, I remember the announcer for ABC (I want to say Jim McKay) explaining to the audience watching at home how, even though the event was live, there could be brief seconds of delay as the feed is uplinked from Canada and downlinked from orbiting satellites to local stations. I believe the point was that ABC was making was that the coverage was as live as technically possible.
Contrast that with NBC’s coverage of the London Summer Games, where they’re largely sticking with their “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!” mantra. That motto didn’t work for summer reruns in 1997 and it doesn’t work for covering an immense, live sporting event in an age of Facebook and Twitter.
With the London Games fully underway, an old sport of sorts has taken off online — complaining about NBC’s ever-lackluster presentation of the Olympics. As this Associated Press article indicates, critics and supporters alike will point out that this isn’t a new event, but the increasing use of social networking has bolstered criticisms and underscored NBC’s relatively poor broadcasting choices.
Social networking spoils NBC’s tape-delay plans because people around the world are sharing results as they happen. Unless people go out of their way to avoid the results, the results of key competitions are known hours before NBC gets around to broadcasting them over the air.
This was an issue during the Vancouver 2010 Games, but it seems like a much bigger issue today.
I’ve never been shy to criticize NBC’s broadcasting choices, especially those that force West Coast viewers to suffer tape delays for events happening in their time zone (like during Vancouver). In the past, the complaints just seemed to peter out after a while. Not so in London, where comments are shared and added to like flames of a fire.
Thus far, people watching the London Games have taken to using the #nbcfail tag on Twitter to help express their disdain of the coverage. The complaints have been wide-ranging, but have thus far focused on the delayed Opening Ceremonies on Friday and a 7- to 11-hour delay for Saturday’s 400 IM men’s swimming final featuring Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.
Sunday’s gripes seem to be less focused, with people carping about a bevy of events delayed into primetime and some tweeting about the reaction to #nbcfail. There’s also a Internet meme where people are jokingly tweeting about NBC’s tape-delayed coverage of historical events.
So what’s the solution? I think the Canadian model works well for a sports fan and a viewer — live coverage whenever possible and highlights when necessary. I’m not sure what current rightsholder CTV is doing, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would only air highlight packages during times when live coverage wasn’t feasible … but after airing the live coverage.
Looking at NBC’s position, they did fork out the dough to air the Games, so they’re obviously in the driver’s seat about their decisions. Their arguments include the fact that they can reach a greater audience and earn more ad dollars by airing taped events in primetime. That seems to be borne out by the record ratings for the first two days of the London Games.
They’ve also made fun of the Canadian model. I remember during the Athens Games in 2004 reading about an NBC producer touting the higher American ratings than their Canadian counterparts.
NBC has also countered critics by saying all the events are streaming live online. I appreciate that effort — although I question how much of an effort it really is, considering that Olympic Broadcasting Services provides feeds of every event anyway. Still, it’s a step up from the Vancouver Games, where most events were kept offline until they aired on the Peacock.
The service was fairly comprehensive during the Beijing Games, but I’m shut out this time — people need to prove they’re paying for an expanded cable or satellite subscription before they can get access. People with rabbit ears on their televisions are shut out.
One final point about NBC that people rarely seem to consider is the fact that NBC isn’t a monolithic network — they have to keep their local affiliates happy. I have no doubt that local stations’ desires to garner the largest audiences is also a factor in NBC’s scheduling. That’s also why I believe local news and key syndicated shows are still shown, despite the huge amount of Olympics events available.
It’s hard to say what the ultimate impact of #NBCfail will be. For now, the ratings tend to support NBC’s decisions regarding the tape-delayed experience they offer television viewers. However, perhaps #NBCfail will continue to point out that this should be a golden era of sports broadcasting and that a significant number of people are aware of better, live offerings than what NBC is serving up.
Opening Ceremonies concerns: While I’m still making my way through an over-stuffed Opening Ceremonies, I have to ding NBC Olympics for its decision to air ads instead of showing the Olympic Oaths (prior to the caldron lighting). Amid all of the symbolism of the Opening Ceremonies, having athletes, coaches and officials swear to the true spirit of sportsmanship is a huge one.
The Age of Australia identified the oath takers as UK taewondo athlete Sarah Stevenson, boxing referee Mik Basi for officials and canoeing coach Eric Farrell.
Also, according to the International Olympic Committee’s guide to Opening Ceremonies (PDF), every ceremony is to include 11 elements. The oaths are three of the elements. NBC should have made time for at least the athletes’ oath.
For the record, the oath for athletes is — “In the name of all competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”
The network was also criticized for airing a pretaped interview instead of showing a portion of the ceremonies commemorating victims of terrorism (particularly the July 7, 2005, attacks in London).
I’m watching the latest NHL Winter Classic on NBC. It’s been an enjoyable game between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. While the annual New Year’s Day game has become quite the spectacle, I think the game only pays lip service to the tradition of playing hockey outdoors.
While I’ve only laced up hockey skates once (and just for a free skate), I’ve seen the allure of homemade outdoor hockey rinks in people’s backyards or on a frozen pond. I also recall interviews from NHL players talking about how the Winter Classic brings back memories of those backyard rinks.
Why not play an NHL game on a backyard-style rink?
It tickles my imagination to think about the NHL holding an outdoor game in a pond setting. I’ve mentioned it to a handful of hockey fans over the years and they often love the sound of the idea.
While making accommodations for safety, TV and league rules, it would be fun to watch NHL players play an intimate game on a frozen pond somewhere up north.
I don’t even know if there should be boards — a line of snow marking the boundaries seems like enough. There should be some seating, but nothing like the accommodations for an arena or stadium. Also, a significant number of seats should go to the youth players who are learning the game on those makeshift rinks.
They shouldn’t eliminate the Winter Classic. I wouldn’t want to deprive the league or the host team of revenue, so I think the team that holds a pond game should also hold the stadium game. That way, the spectacle and crowd of the stadium game truly helps hockey get back to its roots with the pond game.
Also, the Winter Classic is a unique event that generates excitement for the NHL and hockey in the middle of a long season. Given the duration of an NHL season, there is enough time to have a stadium game and a pond game.
An aside: I will readily admit that the Winter Classic is geared to American audiences (although the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. airs the game as part of “Hockey Night in Canada”). The game has been played in American venues and features American teams. It’s irksome that much of the publicity around the game ignores the fact that the league has held outdoor Heritage Classics in Canada.
I don’t think NBC or the NHL should bend over backwards to mention the Heritage series, but it feels like it’s totally being ignored. For example, a USA Today preview of today’s Winter Classic speculated about possible future venues for the game. The irksome part for me was the writer mentioning possibly holding the game in Canadian venues (Toronto and Montreal). If you’re talking about Canadian venues, why not mention the two NHL outdoor games already played in Canada as part of the Heritage Classic series?
Given how few of these outdoor games there have been, it would be nice to have the two series considered together, especially for statistics and other such minutia.
“The Marriage Ref” is established on sporting principles (based on the lengthy animated introduction with Jerry Seinfeld). Unfortunately, the performance of this panel show that debuts tonight on NBC (KNVN 24) is more XFL than NFL.
I’ll be short because other viewers and TV critics have already eviscerated this show. One critic snarked about a future when networks could get instant feedback and cancel a show in progress.
Based on the 30-minute preview that aired Sunday, I find myself dreading an entire hour of this banality.
If the “Ref” were a pitcher, there were months of wind up (including endless commercials), but the pitch is a roller in the dirt. If the “Ref” were batter, it’s probably going to quickly strike out.
But “Ref” is neither pitcher nor batter, it’s a simple show that would be at home on basic cable if it weren’t for the celebrity friends Seinfeld has gotten to join him as panelists for the actual ref, Tom Papa.
The premise of the show is relatively straightforward — footage of a couple bickering over a meaningless trifle is shown before a panel of celebrities. The celebrities pick apart the couple’s dilemma and hopefully make a few good jokes before Papa makes the call on which spouse is right.
Humor ensues, or it’s supposed to. However, as some critics pointed out, there may be some elements of the show that might work, but the execution is wrong.
The panel of celebrities are amusing, but they definitely aren’t as funny as they think they are. Some have accused the show of elitism — where the well-to-do celebs mock people from outside New York City. I didn’t necessarily get that feeling, but there was a sense of insincerity around the endeavor.
First – When Papa brings the couple back for the verdict, he says we’re going to meet the “real” couple. But the audience already saw a realistic depiction of the dispute earlier. Does that mean that it was faked with actors? That’s pretty lame. Update: I watched a small part of Thursday’s show. Apparently the couples are real throughout the program. Papa seems to say “actual” as a verbal tick (like “It’s the ‘actual’ David Blaine.”). Still lame.
Second – While cracking wise, the panel has made some pretty valid points about the relationships — like how one silly dispute may be due to a lack of intimacy. Does this get back to the couples? Not during taping, but maybe they’ll see it when/if it airs.
The whole thing reminded me of the goofy shows that Comedy Central aired in the past two decades, like “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” “Beat the Geeks,” or “Root of All Evil.” These shows are often a string of jokes built around an extremely flimsy premise.
When they live in the fringes of cable, the shows are enough to keep people amused for 30 minutes. But mild amusement isn’t enough to sustain a show that is shoved into the relatively bright light of network primetime for an entire hour.
One of the latest Internet campaigns that seems to be gaining traction is a push to get comedienne Betty White to host an upcoming episode of “Saturday Night Live.” While she showed some toughness and strong comedic chops in a Super Bowl ad, I don’t know if the 88-year-old would want to go through the grueling, week-long gauntlet of live television.
The discussion kicked on Super Bowl Sunday when White appeared in a Snickers ad as a player of a rough game of pick-up football. She gets bullied about until she eats a Snickers candy bar and turns into a younger player. The spot, which also featured a Pleasant Valley High grad, ranked highly by USA Today’s Ad Meter.
Since then, people have been pushing for “Saturday Night Live” to offer White a hosting gig. A Facebook fan page had more than 441,000 fans, as of this writing. Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker imagined how the show might go.
The effort seems to be gathering strength, according to EWs Michael Ausiello.
I’m kinda excited about her getting this opportunity, but I was initially leery about her shouldering the entire show herself. Thankfully, it seems like SNL may give her a bench of relief pitchers, so to speak.
Ausiello reports that SNL producers are close to a deal with a possible catch — that White is teamed up to host with a “Women of Comedy” dream team. Names bandied about include Molly Shannon, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — all good choices, but I hope they cast a wider net than just former SNL alumni.
Having a dream team co-host with Betty makes a lot of sense. It could be better than my idea of just having her pop up in a few Digital Shorts (which I think could still be funny and work well as viral video).
Betty is a trooper — she deserves to be the starter and should be the star attraction. However, hosting the show can be a grind. This is based on what I’ve read of the production — including the epic book “Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live” by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller. NPR’s “Fresh Air” also apparently has an interview with Tina Fey discussing behind-the-scenes of the show.
During any given show week, there are days of work of turning ideas into tangible sketches for broadcast. On Saturday, there are rehearsals leading to an 8 p.m. dress rehearsal filmed before a live studio audience. Based on that rehearsal, executive producer Lorne Michaels determines which sketches will air live at 11:35 p.m.
If Betty hosts, she would need to be “on” for more than 6 hours on Saturday (the two performances and additional morning rehearsals). That’s a lot to ask of anybody, but if anybody can do it, White can.
What White may lack compared to the pretty faces hosting this year, she makes up for with moxie, a proven history of performing in live situations, and sharp sense of humor that has stayed fresh over the years.
In about an hour, the next step in Jay Leno’s career begins with his new series. Every weeknight at 10 p.m. viewers will get a dose of Leno — if they’re tuned to NBC. Chances are viewers will be tuned to another channel or doing something else entirely.
While I lament the loss of potentially five hours of scripted television, I never really thought that NBC was taking that huge of a risk by airing Leno five nights a week. As others have helpfully pointed out, producing Leno’s show is likely a lot cheaper than filming an hour-long drama. The downside is that these cheaper shows may not have the same rating draw as a drama.
Also, the “Jay Leno Show” isn’t necessarily a revolutionary move on NBC’s part. After all, it was nearly 20 years ago when NBC and the other networks used cheaply produced newsmagazines to plug in gaps in their schedules.
I don’t think NBC ever aired “Dateline NBC” five nights a week on a consistent basis, but it certainly felt like it on some weeks.
We’ve seen networks try to save money amid increasing competition with regularly scheduled and cheap newsmagazines. This is just another link in the chain.
Tonight is the last “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. Although he’s not leaving our screens forever — he’ll be on in a new show at 10 p.m. this fall — I thought I would watch the finale and write a mini-review.
It won’t be available until early Saturday, but if you have any thoughts, please feel free to leave them here.
Personally, this will be the first Jay Leno show I’ve watched all the way through in about five years (I last watched all the way through when the Watersmeet Nimrod basketball team was on — in 1994). I just never thought “Tonight Show” was appointment viewing (especially when I have primetime shows stacked up on my TiVo).
What do you think?
I’ve seen the first 10 minutes of the pilot and it’s pretty bad. I broke out laughing during the teaser with the train company’s leader launching the Supertrain concept. It wasn’t the line that the train would be powered by an “atom powered steam turbine machine” that cracked me up. It was the leader’s “reassuring” response to a critic’s charge that the train was a huge gamble that could ruin the company.
“So you think it’s a gamble, do you? Well, gentlemen … Since I can count my remaining years on the fingers of one hand, from my point of view, it’s not much of a gamble at all.”
How is that supposed to be reassuring in any way?
Other than the fact that the pilot is exquisitely cringeworthy (Steve Lawrence gets top billing), I have no idea why it’s still getting mentioned 30 years after the show went off the rails. Perhaps discussions of creating regional high-speed rail networks has sparked some fond memories of bad television. It also might be better than most of NBC’s fall schedule, but I’m hoping not.
As I noted earlier, NBC is having announcers in New York do the call on events happening half a world away. I’m not the only that’s noticed, The New York Times did a story titled “New York-Based Crews Just Call It as They See It” looking inside the Peacock’s New York broadcasting center — set up on the stages of “Saturday Night Live.”
It’s an interesting story that answered a lot of questions I had about the New York operation, including the number of sports being broadcast in this fashion (13) and the reason why they did it (because NBC agreed to send fewer people to the Games).