Thursday, August 07, 2008

Five-Ring Circus

Tomorrow night marks the beginning of the 2008 Summer Olympics (NBC, Friday, 7:30 p.m.) in Beijing, games that have already been marked by their fair share of controversies.

Doping, Beijing's pollution, China's abysmal record on human rights - these aren't shaping up to be the happy fun games.

Still, there's something about the Olympics that are unmatched in sports. When a record in track or swimming falls, it still seems to mean something. When you see someone like Kerri Strug perform a vault in gymnastics on a busted ankle to capture a gold medal, you still get chills.

So many great stories usually come out of the Olympics that they are worth watching, especially when all they are up against is so-called reality TV. The Olympics are the genuine deal.

Though NBC will have a small army descend upon China for the games, it's a little disappointing to see the other networks not take advantage of this rare opportunity to report from that country; most are only sending a few reporters. It's a rare opportunity for access to a country that, otherwise, rarely grants it.

Still, there are some problems with the Olympics coverage. For me, most notably, American coverage of the Games usually revolves around Americans, so if an American athlete doesn't have a decent shot at medalling in an event, that event rarely gets shown. In addition, the coverage tends to focus on U.S. athletes who finish in sixth place while some foreign athlete sets a record and barely gets noticed.

And, the Olympics have never quite been the same since ABC stopped covering them, which meant no Jim McKay serving as host. McKay died earlier this year, and no studio host will ever match him in the booth.

NBC has provided a complete schedule of what it is televising: In addition, networks like Telemundo are also providing coverage, and satellite and internet owners should be able to pick up all sorts of broadcasts.

So, let the Games begin.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: The quirky and charming "My Boys" wraps up its second season at a special time (TBS, 10 p.m.) as the gang gets ready for Bobby's wedding and PJ tries to reunite him with his squabbling brother. It follows two new episodes of the "Bill Engvall Show," beginning at 9 p.m.

One of the best shows of the summer, "Burn Notice," (USA, 10 p.m.) is brand-new. It's opposite new episodes of the docu-drama "Hopkins" (ABC, 10 p.m.) and "Flashpoint" (CBS, 10 p.m.)

On the so-called reality front, both "So You Think You Can Dance" (Fox, 8 p.m.) and "Last Comic Standing" (NBC, 8 p.m.) announce their winners.

Finally, I saw the first episode of the HBO vampire series "True Blood," created by Alan Ball ("Six Feet Under") and it's pretty good. I'm going to review it in detail just before it debuts in September (and, I've also interviewed one of show's stars, Macon native Carrie Preston), but you can catch a sneak peek of what it's about with a 15-minute special (HBO, 8:15 p.m.)


zodin2008 said...

First, I agree...Jim McKay was one of a kind though during my era, it's generally been Bob Costas and he is pretty darn good.

That being said, I simply cared more when I was a kid. The Olympics seemed more majestic. But I care far more about Georgia's upcoming football season and I am so obssessively focused on the Dawgs' first game, August 30th, I can only count down to those days.

Plus, add in China's abysmal human rights record, it's hard to get excited about these games. This Olympics may come the closest in comparison sadly to the '36 Berlin Olympics, when Adolph Hitler presided over and Jewish athletes couldn't travel over to the blossoming Nazism/facism during the rise of Nazi Germany. I am still amazed that Jesse Owens braved going over there as a prominent African American.

I am looking forward to the season finale of "My Boys" and as someone who watches most vampire things on Television, I will check out "True Blood" sneak peak tonight - thanks.

Phillip Ramati said...

I'm curious to see if NBC whitewashes everything going in China or if they actually try to call the government out on their human rights policies.

True Blood is very different from things like Buffy or Moonlight. It carries some of the absurdist humor that made Six Feet Under so good.

Anonymous said...

I suspect NBC will be very careful in how they portray China during the games. Imagine the horror if the hosts pulled the plug on the NBC coverage for a perceived insult.
The Olympics lost the glow when the Berlin wall came down and we were no longer competing against the red menace.
As for other networks lack of covering these games. Only NBC can air highlights and after 24 hours competeing nets can only have video that NBC provides.
Television, like newspaper is not as profitable as it used to be and the expense of sending 20 or 30 people to China in these times just doesn't make financial sense.

Phillip Ramati said...

Anon, I realize that other networks have limited access to the Games compared to NBC, but the country of China itself is open, which is a very rare thing. If these news organizations are indeed such, they should take advantage of this unique opportunity.

And if NBC is going to be obsequious in its coverage, then maybe it should have handed it off to another network (though none of them these days are going to be any better). Just this morning, members of the US cycling team were criticized for wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from the pollution, even though millions of Chinese citizens do so every day. The cyclists even had to issue an apology.

If this is how its going to be over the next two weeks, then the Games are in truly bad shape indeed.

Yes, the Us vs Them motif from the Berlin Wall days is gone, but there should be enough national pride with every nation involved to represent the Olympic spirit.