For all the brickbats tossed NBC’s way for its tape-delayed coverage of Olympic highlights, there certainly were a few gold medals for the network to deservedly sink its teeth into — in the cliché shot that photographers demand .
This assessment comes with some caveats and idiosyncrasies in that (a) I did not faithfully attend to all of the Olympic coverage, tape delayed or on-line; (b) when I did watch it was often with the sound off in the wake of the political commercials cluttering TV, given Iowa’s status as a swing state and (c) my new recliner is nap-inducing.
Even with those handicaps, one had to be impressed by:
• John McEnroe and his accomplishment in not asking an athlete even once, “How do you feel?” Rather, McEnroe had a delightfully candid and enjoyable conversation with Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and another with the mens tennis gold medal winner, Brit Andy Murray. What was impressive about the latter is that McEnroe did not mention, or even allude to, the fact that the day before or so he had all but predicted a Murray upset of Roger Federer.
• Mary Carillo and her whimsical and witty pieces on the people and the history of Great Britain. Her commentary and use of the TV medium approached the Thurberesque and apparently so caught NBC off guard that they put much of it in a time slot way, way late into the evening. Carillo, too, enjoyed what she was doing so much that she complimented herself on a segue she came up with to bridge a piece on Wales and the Welsh language to a segment on the woman’s hammer throw.
• Bob Costas and how over the decades he has managed so well the transition from the upstart to the avuncular. Finally, we had the opening parade of the athletes without the commentator getting all hot and bothered or dramatic and dogmatic about whether the U.S. flag bearer would dip Old Glory in deference to the host nation. What a wonderful change of pace that was. His wrap-up interviews at the end of his part of the telecasts were perceptive and enjoyable. (And he knew when to shut up, too, like not being constrained to find a suitable riposte when Carillo told him it cost her $15 to get the official sketching of the Costas’ family coat of arms.)
• Tom Brokaw’s commentaries — although belabored at times — on Anglo-American relations and on the Churchillian resolve of the English-speaking people.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, with regard to the above folks, never have so few done so much to make TV so enjoyable for so many.