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Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012

Ringing Down the Curtain

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The Olympic marathon has ended for bleary-eyed fans who tried to navigate through hundreds of TV hours. The Observers' viewing was more of a middle-distance jaunt, but that doesn't mean they've run short on commentary.

Frank:
This is a really dated reference, but the end of an Olympics is like the musical Brigadoon.

Artie:
The tale of a Scottish village that appears for only a day every 100 years.

Frank:
In this case it's a couple of weeks every four years. And after that, for the average American fan, almost all the Olympic sports fade back into the mist.

Artie:
Bye-bye, badminton. Adios, archery. Farewell, fencing. See ya later, synchronized swimming... Now, if we could also see Ryan Seacrest vanish! Why did NBC decide he deserved an Olympic role?

Frank:
He was the “social media” monitor.

Artie:
Then give me anti-social media. Seacrest seems to be involved with every stupid “reality” show, but the Games are the real reality.

Frank:
Not that NBC didn't script what it could into all those previews and profiles, with the poignant music and slo-mo flashbacks. But you can't script the winners' comments as they're still catching their breath—although a friend was lamenting the endless stream of “dream come true... can't put into words... just unbelievable!”

Artie:
At least it ain't the Oscars and they don't try to thank every person they ever met.

Frank:
It's a little like the astronauts, who generally weren't great at describing the wonders of space. John Glenn's “Man, the view is tremendous” was about as good as it got. But it's unfair to expect astronauts and athletes to be poets, too. Besides, “dream come true” is a cliché because it's accurate.

Artie:
My big problem as a viewer was getting my timing down. Take last Thursday night: I mostly watched the Packers' exhibition opener...

Frank:
Even though they were crummy?

Artie:
I wanted to see backup quarterback Graham Harrell, and as a bonus I got to see future Hall of Famers like receiver Curenski Gilleylen and safety Micah Pellerin.

Frank:
Those are real Packers?

Artie:
Not for long, I reckon.

Frank:
But surely you tried the Olympics during the usual long breaks in football?

Artie:
Yeah, but it seemed like every time I flipped to NBC, they were showing women's volleyball. Is that all they've got?

Frank:
There was women's diving, too.

Artie:
Yeah, but I've got to upgrade my cable package and add the Tutorial Channel to learn how the hell they get those decimal-point scores.

Frank:
Degree of difficulty, my friend.

Artie:
In comprehending diving and gymnastics scores, my degree of difficulty is infinite.

Frank:
The scoring in volleyball is as simple as it gets, but you don't like that either.

Artie:
Especially the beach kind!

Frank:
I only watch the women's version, as you know, but these are tremendous athletes! Constantly diving to make a “dig,” then scrambling up, charging the net and soaring for a spike. And on sand!

Artie:
I'll bet it's some special kind of sand.

Frank:
It is! I heard Brian Williams say it's used for its “large, even granules” so it doesn't stick to players. But it's still tough to slog through.

Artie:
I accept that these women are great athletes. But they don't have, um, the right look for me. The only way I'd watch is if Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were teaming up.

Frank:
Sorry, a parallel universe and a time warp aren't in any cable package.

Artie:
One time I got lucky and hit NBC as they lined up for the men's 200 meters. So I did see Usain Bolt “plausibly live.”

Frank:
As usual, NBC caught some flak for “holding” the top events in track, swimming and gymnastics for prime time.

Artie:
And late in prime time!

Frank:
They've gotta try to drag us through as many commercials as possible. Which is why the DVR is the most valuable tool of the Olympics watcher. Zip through the ads and whatever sports you don't like.

Artie:
But you'll still be up late for the best stuff. Or watch it the next morning.

Frank:
Lots of things were shown live in the afternoon, including basketball, tennis and soccer.

Artie:
And there was live Web-casting for all events, however that worked.

Frank:
“Plausibly live” is hardly new; the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980 began in late afternoon but ABC held it for prime time.

Artie:
Giving the late, great Vince Gibbens the chance to spoil the ending on Channel 12 during the second intermission.

Frank:
The difference now is that there are so many more ways to learn the results quickly. ESPN gleefully reported everything immediately.

Artie:
Plus all that “apping” and tweeting and texting power that people have. If you really don't want to know, then turn it all off! I never have any trouble not knowing something.

Frank:
Plus, what does it really spoil if you know? You still want to see how Bolt or Michael Phelps won.

Artie:
Next time, in Rio, they'll be only two hours ahead of Central time, so more might be live in prime time.

Frank:
In '08 NBC got the swimming scheduled for morning, Beijing time, which was prime time here. But do Americans really expect every Olympics to be set up for our convenience?

Artie:
Of course. It's in the Constitution, ain'a?

Frank:
Here's who I'm glad for—the Canadian women's soccer team for getting the bronze.

Artie:
More than our gals for taking gold?

Frank:
Yup. I think the Canadians got jobbed in the semifinals when the Norwegian ref made a call that's never made.

Artie:
A delay of game on the goalie, I heard.

Frank:
Yeah. I watch a lot of soccer, and when a team is ahead, the keeper always uses plenty of time. But this ref gave the United States a free kick, and then called a hand ball in the penalty area, which gave the U.S. a penalty kick that tied the score.

Artie:
Tough luck, Maple Leafers.

Frank:
The hand ball was pretty questionable. And in the final against Japan, the United States committed a more obvious hand ball that wasn't called. But the Canadians' karma changed in the third-place game. France out-shot them 25-4 and hit the crossbar at least twice, and Canada scored at the very end to win by the remarkable tally of...

Artie:
One-nil, of course.

Frank:
That Norwegian ref should become a major-league umpire and order batters to stay in the box and pitchers to quit stalling.

Artie:
And in the winter she can go to the NBA and call LeBron James for traveling. Just once.

Frank:
The sport I'll miss most is team handball, that crazy blend of basketball, soccer, rugby and wrestling. No NBA center is ever worked over like those players are near the goal, but there also are terrific fast breaks.

Artie:
I'd love to have seen that, but they weren't showing it in prime time, at least when I was watching.

Frank:
I'll also miss the sudden moments of drama, some of them heartbreaking. Like the U.S. 1,500-meter runner Morgan Uceny getting accidentally tripped in the final lap and pounding the track in despair.

Artie:
Shades of Mary Decker in '84.

Frank:
Or the scary moment when a German weightlifter lost his balance and had the bar fall on the back of his neck. He wasn't seriously hurt.

Artie:
Ouch! He didn't medal, he “metaled.” And speaking of ouch, I'll remember the slo-mo replays of that French hoops player slugging a Spaniard in the man-zone.

Frank:
“Here's something to dive over, mon ami.”

Artie:
Now that's the Olympic spirit.