NBC comes in for bashing from critics, both professional and otherwise, every four years,over its choices of what Olympics action to air, when to air it, and whether the action is live or taped. Beach volleyball isn’t a sport! How dare they air the gymnastics final after midnight! Who put Tiki Barber on the air?! OK, that one is fair .
So let’s praise NBC for something that it’s doing right—embracing the world feed. The world feed is the all-seeing eye of the Games. All events are shot by the independent Beijing Olympic Broadcasting, which uplinks the pictures to each nation’s host broadcaster. NBC augments this coverage with its own production teams, which are largely concentrated on the marquee events.
After years of ignoring most of the world feed, and leaving dozens of events unaired and therefore anonymous, almost everything is given some airtime this year (mostly online, at NBCOlympics.com). This means that fans of soccer, table tennis, weightlifting, and all the other events where Americans usually aren’t medal threats are rewarded.
Here is where the Peacock has been honest—announcers in New York, not Beijing, are calling many of these events. An analyst and a play-by-play man sit in front of large monitors and call the action off TV, just as many of us do in the privacy of our homes. (Wait, did I just admit to that?) Although the home viewer would be otherwise unaware, NBC has nonetheless had its announcers state up front and often that the action is being called from the States.
I talked with JP Dellacamera, who is calling soccer for NBC from New York. JP (no periods, thank you) is a veteran of calling games by remote, having often done so for ESPN (the boys in Bristol got some egg on their face during June’s European Championships, when a thunderstorm in Austria exposed the unadmitted fact that ESPN announcers were calling the games from the U.S.). Dellacamera says calling games off TV “is not easier, but it is simpler. You only worry about what you can see, and that is the picture on the monitor.”
I worked with JP on the 2002 World Cup, which was also mostly called from Bristol off TV. During that tournament, a seven second delay gave a heads-up to the announcers and producers that something of significance was about to happen. But this time, Dellacamera says, “It’s all live—there’s no safety net.”
He acknowledges that being at the site of the contest is better, to get a feel for atmosphere, but Dellacamera also points out that a remote call is that rare instance where “broadcaster and viewer are seeing exactly the same thing.” As any sports fan knows, that cuts down on the ‘what game is he watching?’ factor.
Dellacamera also points to an unusual benefit of calling the games from New York—groupthink. “We have four play-by-play guys, and four analysts, and between games and even at halftime we can share opinions and chat about the action. If we were all at different sites, we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
So while Bob Costas and the guys at the swimming venue get all the plaudits, give some credit to the people waking up at three AM in New York every day to call thirteen different events. And to NBC for being open about the fact that it’s being done that way.Robert Weintraub is the author of The House That Ruth Built. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Slate, and a television writer/producer based in Atlanta.