The broadcast of the 2006 Winter Olympics, NBC reminded us from the get-go of the Opening Ceremonies, was going to be a triumph of technology. Hundreds of hours of coverage, all broadcast in HDTV for the first time! (The wonders of which will not be relayed to you by your correspondent, who watches a 20-inch box purchased sometime around the Barcelona games.)
NBC began the night with plenty of bombast about how great its broadcast would be. Of course, the fourth-place network has a lot riding on these games, and it’s not shy about trying to jazz them up, right down to the name. NBC sports chairman Dick Ebersol decided that the Italian "Torino" was sexier than the Anglicized "Turin" (hey, it was good enough for Jesus’ shroud!), and much of the rest of the media has blindly followed the TV leader. (I’m waiting for a reference to the tragic 1972 hostage crisis at MÃ¼nchen.)
But then, the Olympics are all about bombast and pretense. The ceremony itself was designed, in keeping with tradition, to appear equally daffy to all cultures. It began with a red-suited man smacking a flaming anvil with a hammer, amid swarms of red-clad dancers, who I believe symbolized the excess hemoglobin that several Olympians have already been booted for having in their bloodstreams.
Other highlights included: ballroom dancers in cow prints, twirling to a soundtrack of bovine sounds (a tribute to the Alps); supermodel Eva Herzigova posing on a clamshell as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus; and the Italian flag, raised with great pomp to the singing of a 9-year-old girl, who was apparently dressed as a tube of Aquafresh toothpaste. The good people of Torino, it seemed, were determined not to take this Olympics overly seriously. And the spirit extended to the Parade of Nations, which, bizarrely, was scored to a medley of ’70s disco hits. Millions of Americans now believe that the national anthem of Bosnia-Herzegovina is "Le Freak."
The ceremonies were hosted by an odd couple of NBC stars. Bob Costas is a versatile anchor who can handle these biennial ceremonies with a sense of humor but without letting them make him ridiculous. Less well-suited to the gaudy festivities was Brian Williams, the starchy NBC anchor who as a child probably wore a blazer to the sandbox.
While Costas handled most of the narration, Williams occasionally interjected grim factoids: many of the Olympic venues in the Sarajevo games were later bomb-blasted in the civil war; the day after London was awarded the 2012 games, the London subways were bombed. Williams was co-hosting in place of Katie Couric, a move some have speculated was meant to deprive the possible next anchoress of the CBS Evening News the prime time exposure. So maybe NBC wanted to show off its evening anchor in full-on gravitas mode. But it was like the opposite of color commentary; Williams drained the event gray every time he opened his mouth.
I never thought I’d say this, but I missed Katie. Let the Games begin. Please.