Tuned In

NBC’s Unkind Olympic Cut

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JAE C. HONG / AP

Performers dance during the "Abide With Me" segment of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London on July 27, 2012.

I saw the London Olympics opening ceremony late, on Pacific Time—my colleague Catherine Mayer reviews it elsewhere at time.com—but it was a spectacle and a hoot, in the best sense of both words. Where Beijing’s 2008 ceremony was forward-looking and forcefully impressive, London’s looked back through history with a sense of humor, Tolkienesque imagery and unembarrassed sentiment. It was suitably loony (an inflatable baby! Mary Poppins vs. Voldemort!) and could not have been more British if you put a bowler hat on top of your television.

What we saw of it, anyway.

As it turned out, NBC cut out a performance of “Abide With Me,” by the singer Emeli Sandé, that—as Deadspin and several British news outlets reported—was intended as a tribute to the 52 victims of the 7/7 London bombings in 2005. Way to be a considerate guest, NBC! (Apparently they’re in some sort of offend-the-British competition with Mitt Romney.)

True, there was some disagreement over whether the segment was actually, literally a tribute to terrorism victims. The official program of the opening ceremonies describes that section of the program as a general tribute to “loved ones who couldn’t be with us.” But the commentary on the BBC telecast of the ceremony referenced it as a 7/7 tribute, and from the coverage in the British press, the symbolism and staging of the event seemed to clearly, if not officially, reference the 2005 attack.

(PHOTOS: Highlights From the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony)

 But it also doesn’t really matter. Specific or general, a tribute to the missing seems like precisely the most sensitive section of a ceremony to edit out. And besides that, given the stranglehold NBC maintains on content for an event its audience has a massive interest in, why edit anything out? It may have been a long ceremony, as they always are, but there was plenty of time to air the song rather than have Ryan Seacrest interview athletes (which NBC has the rest of the games to do, over and over and over).

I get that the Olympics is a business, that NBC spends a lot of money, that it should be expected to try to make its investment back and turn a profit. There will be edits and compromises and ungainly commercial interruptions. But it also has a compact with its viewers in being their sole source (or at least sole legal source) of access to the events. At minimum, when there is an event, like the opening ceremonies, that its audience is intensely interested in, it should show the whole damn thing.

(INTERACTIVE PANORAMARe-live the Opening Ceremony)

 NBC has, to its credit, been better about that this year, with its commitment to live-streaming every Olympic competition (albeit restricted to cable and satellite subscribers). Then, yesterday, it declined to stream the opening ceremonies live, offering the dubious explanation that the program was too “complex.”

In the spirit of that, let’s keep the argument simple: American viewers give NBC a lot in terms of time and attention to lucrative ads. In exchange, NBC should give them the Olympics—all of it. Save the slicing for the fencing competition.

59 comments
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ellespot
ellespot

watch Canadian coverage. 

polkovnik7
polkovnik7

I hope someday some network will air the Olympics IN REAL TIME. I for one am not even slightly interested in artificial suspense. A nightly highlight show would cater to those who are.

polkovnik7
polkovnik7

NBC's deletion of the moving tribute to the 52 London terrorism victims of 7/7/05 was contemptible and unforgivable, made even more so by cutting it for a banal Seacrest interview with 2008's hero.

Reportedly NBC's excuse was that the victims weren't Americans. Those Brits died because their country and its troops were standing side by side with us in Iraq. How quickly some of us forget.

The tribute was beautiful and is still up on line.

Magical Aaron
Magical Aaron

NBC was completely disrespectful to those that fell on that day.  It would be similar if the BBC cut the unfurling of the 9/11 flag during the 2002 Olympics so they can air one of the many interviews they would have aired anyway.

emudrummer
emudrummer

Tell me what would have been the reaction if the Opening Ceremonies were in the US and they did a tribute to 9/11 and foreign networks cut away. They'd all be labeled as terrorist sympathizers.

Tom Holt
Tom Holt

So they cut out a tribute to the 7/7 victims, but then Costas criticizes the IOC for not paying tribute to the Israeli athletes killed in 1972 Olympics?  Hmmm.

EpeeFencer
EpeeFencer

I'm not a big fan of Bob Costas, but I give him credit for exposing the IOC for what it

is.

But I don't think you realize that Costas is  only a broadcaster and doen't actually run NBC.   It was NBC's shameful decision to cut out the tribute to the 7/7 victims --

not Costas'.  I'm sure that were it up to him, it would have aired.

Despite his many inanities and mistakes of fact, unlike NBC, Costas' heart is

in the right place!

Kirsten
Kirsten

as Eddie implied I'm blown away that a person able to profit $7977 in four weeks on the internet. did you look at this site N u TT y R i c h  d o t  c o m

David McCambley
David McCambley

I heard that the NBC commentators didn't recognize Tim Berners-Lee, and advised viewers to Google him...oh the irony!!

Unugly_American
Unugly_American

Bittorrent is your friend. Thank you BBC for airing the ceremony uncut and without interruption. And thank you, anonymous Brits, for recording, encoding, and uploading the ceremony. You have provided a valuable service to we Americans who are sick of clueless corporate bureaucrats deciding what is palatable to us.

AgentC1983
AgentC1983

Gee NBC is it that complex to grab the BBC feed and retransmit it?

KimRH
KimRH

It's good to see the Americans care about other countries casualties of terror as much as they would like us to care about theirs. Please remember the victims of the London boming died because we jumped in to help you after 9/11. Way to be grateful NBC. It's an insult to those who died in London and it's an insult to all those who have died fighting along side America in the war on Terror that you care so little.

olaf78
olaf78

This is what really hurt me when I heard of this. 

NBC represented that the US public watching the Olympic opening ceremony was inherently uninterested in a memorial to the victims of terrorist acts that happened in the city hosting the Olympic Games. 

It symbolises something really ugly about how the US puts itself out there to the rest of the world; very myopic and insular. 

I am not saying that the people of the US are like this, just that the corporations (which increasingly) represent the country seem to display the very worst capitalistic behaviours.

For those who didn't get to see it, the song and dance was beautiful and poignant. 

It was a moment to think about the mundane human endeavour to continue after loss, which was meaningfully counter-pointed by the celebration of the more obvious human exertions of  the Games. 

Marks Smith
Marks Smith

Please don't assume that NBC represents the USA in any manner. They only represent their own interests. We in America definitely felt your pain after the bombing of the tube. That dastardly attack served to strengthen the resolve of real Americans to put an end to Islamic terrorism (and all terrorism). NBC only seeks to appease the socialist leftist agenda of the current administration and abandoned truth, honesty and integrity a long time ago.

lucelucy
lucelucy

I finally watched the whole thing yesterday - in between taking a load to the dump and prying a little piece of glass out of my heel - both with a little help from my friends.  Except for some of the musical entrees (almost anything past the 80's - because I know nothing, nothing about them), I loved it.

As someone who has climbed Glastonbury Tor not once but three times I was happy to see that the Olympic version was where the flags were planted.  As someone who long ago fell in love with the English countryside, who has danced a Maypole, who drove miles out of her way just to see the first Iron Bridge (capitalized, because it's also the name of the town), and a very nice bridge it is indeed, who suspects that if she had known of Isambard Kingdom Brunel before her son was born she would have named him something other than Christopher Robin (and he's damn grateful for that little fact), I loved the vignettes from beginning to end.

I loved that they decided to make a major point of the National Health Service, and that they did so with an infield full of little beds full of children being put to sleep with stories.  I love that the children had nightmares, and that the nightmares were dispelled by a skyful of Mary Poppins's.

Loved Rowan Atkinson.  To me he will always be Black Adder.  Loved Sir Simon Riddle.  I remember seeing him interviewed on Charlie Rose and everytime he mentioned another older conductor or singer or musician's name, he appended it with "bless 'im," just like my Brit friend Jeremy does.  I don't know where he comes from in England, but I suspect it may be a regional tic.

I loved that Paul's voice cracked with emotion, and I believe it was emotion because it sounded exactly like mine does when mine cracks with emotion - which, believe it or not, it does do on occasion.

On DVR, I fast forwarded through the commercials.  And through the initial interviews.  Nothing can put me off my feed like hearing Matt Lauer, the very sight of whom usually makes me change the channel, mouthing Britishisms as if they are just the cutest little thing.  And I would walk more than a mile to avoid the sight or sound of Ryan Seacrest doing anything.

I wasn't put off by the long take on the Americans until they went to commercial and when they came back they did not recap back to Uraguay.  I think of all those Uraguayan-Americans staring at the tube in bereaved disbelief.

Loved the Queen and James Bond moment in the palace - but wish HM had smiled once or twice when the camera reached her in the stadium.  'Twouldn't have hurt.

Was extremely disappointed to learn later that England was knocked out of the archery finals.  Had a little back and forth with Jeremy on Facebook about how far we have fallen since Agincourt. "At least they weren't beaten by the French," I said.  I think it might have been the Czechs, or whoever passes for them these days.

Didn't even know there *was* an "Abide With Me" moment  until I read James' post.  My take (besides the usual ick to NBC for omitting it) is that it was suitable for remembering all who have been lost untimely, from Israeli athletes to 9/11 to 7/7 to a dear friend of mine.  Keep calm and carry on.

EpeeFencer
EpeeFencer

"lucelucy": 

Beautiful comments, I loved every word and was sorry to come to the end.   Carry

on, indeed!

Brian Greul
Brian Greul

I think the Olympic$ are over-commercialized.  I have not tuned in yet and don't plan to.  

nevermindthx
nevermindthx

Well-said, thank you. I find it infuriating that I cannot even find online the entire Queen-Bond bit, which I missed due to having to work. NBC has such a stranglehold on the Olympics that I cannot look at associated ads that accompany such bits even  if I wanted to - because NBC has made the decision to prevent its being seen! Shameful, unprofessional, irresponsible behavior on NBC's part.

Mike Dobinson
Mike Dobinson

Can you imagine if any country ever cut out an American tribute to 9/11 in any way? Boycott, trade war, never invited for any kind of coverage again etc. It's ridiculous.

Ragglock
Ragglock

I feel sorry for the US viewers here

personally i had the luxury 10 + channels broadcasting the opening

ceremony, uncut no add breaks and i could switch, if the commentators

got to talkative under the music numbers.

my guess is you got the result of an monopoly on broadcasting the games ,

anything you cant see in context will seem like lousy. 

Ruth Livingstone
Ruth Livingstone

I watched the ceremony live on the BBC and the 2 minutes of quietness (it wasn't really silence) was to remember those  'no longer with us' - or similar carefully chosen words. It was for anybody and everybody that YOU personally wanted to remember. There were photos shown on the screen that ordinary people had sent in for remembrance of friends or relatives.

The BBC commentary chose to talk about 7/7, but you could easily have used the time to think about 9/11 or the murdered Israelis, or the victims of war, or somebody personal. It was a fantastic moment.

ksol1460
ksol1460

This is the kind of thing that makes people seek downloads of the BBC coverage. 

Labyrinthia
Labyrinthia

And this adds to my belief that PBS should air the olympics, or at the very least, the airing shouldn't be a monopoly.

alwaysthink
alwaysthink

Thanks for bringing this outrage to our attention.  The only way to make up for this outrage is to apologize for this censorship and air this beautiful segment and then make it available online.  I've watched it several times and it bring a tear to my eye.  The singer of "Abide with Me" is just amazing.

Dan Allen
Dan Allen

Absolutely horrified to hear this, so horrified i've started a petition for NBC to make a charitable donation in recognition of the cut scenes from the opening ceremony:  

http://www.ipetitions.com/peti...

EpeeFencer
EpeeFencer

Dan Allen:

Great and positive suggestion.  I just signed your petition and encourage everyone

who agrees with us to sign it also.

Whether or not NBC does the right thing, it cannot be allowed to think its slight of

the martyrs of the terrorist bombings in England on 7/7 has gone unnoticed.

Dan Allen
Dan Allen

Absolutely horrified to hear this, so horrified i've started a petition for NBC to make a charitable donation in recognition of the cut scenes from the opening ceremony:  

http://www.ipetitions.com/peti...

xprintman
xprintman

If NBC wanted to keep the ceremonies upbeat and happy why, oh why, did they break away during commercials to show nasty, negative ads from our presidential campaign?  Talk about your buzz killer!

EpeeFencer
EpeeFencer

I take your point.  But as a former college varsity fencer, I object to your suggestion to

"slice fencing," just because you aren't interested in it.   As it is unless one has cable

or satellite TV, which I don't,  anyone who wants to see Olympic fencing is limited

to NBC's  (or other networks in other years) un-tender mercy of  just showing little

snippits of the action -- and then only when an American wins a medal!

I enjoy good fencing no matter what country a fencer is from, but NBC doesn't have

the slightest interest in showing it.  And to add insult to injury, you reinforce their

deliberate policy.  Thank you for nothing.

NOTE TO JAMES PONIEWOZIK:

I just read the most gracious e-mail you sent me. First of all, I am astonished that you

would take time to read my comment. Secondly I understand and appreciate your

explanation that when you wrote "leave the slicing to the fencers," you meant NBC should

let them do their sport and keep their editors from "slicing," or censoring, what we should see.

So I actually owe you an apology, which I now offer freely, for misunderstanding your

intentions -- which should have been immediately clear to me. I'm afraid that my more

than 50 years of being denied seeing Olympic fencing presented adequately by all the

networks on over the air transmission has left me somewhat disappointed, not to

mention ruffled.

As you wrote me, you may not be a sportsman, but you're a darned good sport!

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 Oh, that wasn't what I meant at all. I meant leave the slicing to the fencers. Of course, they don't really literally slice--they thrust, or whatever the proper term is. I'm an idiot when it comes to any sport, much less fencing, but I have nothing against it; just a turn of phrase. Be offended by my ignorance and poor phrasing, not my intentions toward your sport!

ronjayaz
ronjayaz

At first I was for the moment of silence for the martyrs of the Munich games but when I read that the Arab nations threatened to walk out, I realized that the Olympics were being politicized as it was in the Munich games. The games shud not be for taking sides except by the individuals. Politicizing the games as the Munich slaughter did shud not accomplish one of the goals of the original terrorists.

Mike Schneblin
Mike Schneblin

I guess a 3-minute hymn is just too long and repugnant(?) for insular broadcast execs... 3 minutes out of how many hours of incessant diatribe and inane comments?!  This was our British cousins' 9/11, NBC.  Poniewozik and the editor's title choice are, as the British would say, spot on!

VA_Mom
VA_Mom

NBC's coverage last night was dreadful.  Non-stop, idiotic chatter by Meredith and Matt (who should be thrown out of London), and the switches to Ryan Seacreast, of all idiotic things.  I'm looking forward to the games, but not NBC's coverage.  I've seriously reached the threshhold of how many commercials I can stomach and I intend to watch a lot of events streaming on my computer instead of NBC's garbage.

Don Koh
Don Koh

The problem is that NBC has paid such insanely extravagant sums to lock in a long-term contract that it truly needs insanely massive advertising to cover the investment.  I actually don't blame NBC for this fault, as anyone would likely be in the same pickle under these conditions.  What the problem is, is the fundamental framework under which the Olympics media reporting is covered.  The system as it is, is simply not sound and is clearly flawed.  

No question there needs to be a more dynamic and mind blowing free-media capacity in order to enjoy the Olympic experience in the future.

Don Koh
Don Koh

Hey James - the U.S. is NOT in some sort of "Offend the British" competition, OK!  

Please consider putting a cease fire on this sort of cheap shot reporting... it get's rather old and truly becomes offensive in itself!  

What happens in either NBC or other media reporting is many times, no doubt, poor producer decision making and final production lacking in some greater foresight and vision.  Moreover, yes, frequent blunders made by individual politicians are equally translated times into pretty dumb and misspoken moments, as seen by the public eye too!  But let's please try not and add to the problem by heaping more onto these silly flaws and glitches and escalate such stories into bigger things than they are... That's my viewpoint at least.  Best regards-

Sherri M Howard
Sherri M Howard

When there was incessant chatter through Children's Choir singing "Danny Boy" I knew it was all down hill from there.  British music of the past 4 decades was an important part of the Opening Ceremony yet NBC talked and talked through all most all of it- even cutting large bits of the 70's/80's during the Pop portion of the show.

ronjayaz
ronjayaz

The copyrights of the 70s/80s music may have been strictly for usage rights. While the Olympics may have had paid usage rights, 3rd parties may not have without paying big fees. NBC is a business first, profits second and low/high ball cultural accomplishments last!

Denny
Denny

 So then give us the BBC please.

SPB3006
SPB3006

Absolutely. It's a shame that there were no restrictions on Meredith trying to sing Satisfaction. Absurd.

Denny
Denny

They should have STOPPED TALKING. Drove me nuts! They acted as though they were at the Macy's parade. The opening was fabulous, the coverage was embarrassing.

SPB3006
SPB3006

NBC proved that a dollar is all that actually matters.

Treating the Opening Ceremony as if it were the Macy's Parade showed their complete lack of respect for another culture and tradition. The commentary was insulting - I don't need to be told hey are chimneys, I can see that for myself; I have no idea if the Arctic Monkeys cover of Come Together was good because you talked over most of it.

Then, to cut Abide With Me, renowned as a tribute hymn to the fallen, shows the ultimate disrespect to the event, to he viewer and to the memories being honoured.

Angela Conlin
Angela Conlin

 Top ten. With honorable mentions. The TEN worst things NBC did with the opening ceremony:

10. Repeated derision and backhand compliments of any country not named the United States

9. The repeated reliance on mentioning how war-torn various nations are or have been instead of mentioning their athletes

8. Commenting on North Korea by mocking Kim Jong-Il's alleged 11-holes-in-one golf game after they have already caused a delay in competition after percieved political slights

7. Four-hour tape delay in the social-media era

6. Spoiling the cauldron lighting

5. Inserting Idi Amin into conversation as Uganda was marching

4. Speculating that the Maldives can fight rising sea levels by winning medals

3. Giving zero camera time to Barbados and Ukraine

2. Cutting of the athletes', coaches' and judges' oaths

1. Cutting of the London bombing memorial segment for a Michael Phelps interview

Dishonorable mentions:

* Referring to San Marino as "sort of an island"

* Going to commercial in the middle of a segment

* Insisting on mentioning the deceased Omar Bongo as Gabon marched, over the 1-1 draw with Switzerland their men's soccer team had already achieved

*Stated speculation that Greece will never host the Olympics again

*Referring to Borat as Kazakhstan marched

*Making the Djibouti joke during a major world cultural event

*Spoiling the industrial-era and National Health Service segments right as they were beginning

*Making a big deal over the lack of a minute of silence for the victims of Munich

*Repeated mangling of countries' names

*Making reference to the Falklands War as Argentina marched

*24 commercial breaks

SPB3006
SPB3006

NBC tarnished what was an incredible spectacle. The ridiculous commentary (do they believe we cannot actually tell what is on the screen?), talking through whole segments (I don't know if I agree about the Arctic Monkeys cover of Come Together because you talked through most of it) and then, to cut out Abide With Me shows a complete disregard for another culture and for what is always a tribute to the fallen. NBC treated the whole thing as if it was the Macy's Parade (I have no criticism of the Macy's Parade but do not expect to have that style of commentary at an Olympic Ceremony).

The fact that the US is driven first by dollars and then by the spirit of an occasion simply confirms the world's opinion that the American media has no idea how to present an event.

Denny
Denny

 I had on my big screen in HD, Cranked up my surround sound. Can you imagine how cool "Danny's Boy" would have sounded? NOT. I missed the end, went to bed.

Fau2012
Fau2012

NBC was not able to capture the essence of the ceremony. The commentary over the sound effects was very poor.

spj3k54
spj3k54

NBC, you did not do a very good job.

megan03
megan03

I agree with Poniewozic.  I also am not happy with NBC for the numerous commercials during the countries entering the stadium.  It was bad enough that the countries had to run to keep up with the pace that Boyle set----but to keep cutting away for ads made it worse.  This was the only opportunity many  countries got to see their Olympic athletes---and to rush them so quickly past the cameras was pretty sad.  That said--the overall ceremony was really impressive with its technical displays.

Karib04
Karib04

I couldn't agree with you more. NBC coverage of the Olympic is so packaged that it takes the fun away from the greatest sporting event in the world. The Olympic is the one event that showcases the best of the human family. It provides a forum for all nations to see the human race under the umbrella of sports. Using the Olympic to promote one's perspective or  America's perspective defeats the spirit of the Olympics.

Brian Hess
Brian Hess

Collapse

I felt the morning show commentators ruined the opening

ceremonies with their constant unneeded color commentary. I was also

disappointed that NBC was unable to provide a complete coverage of the

opening ceremony. It is true that it was a tape delay, so the editors

had a great opportunity to cut to commercials during pauses in action,

but bring us back right where we left off.   This was a terrible job of

editing. Most of all, they cut out the taking of the oath by all

Olympian participants.   This is something that should have been shown so

that all athletes of the future can learn from the best that good

sportsmanship

is also part of the game.   Overall I felt that NBC dropped the ball on

presenting a once in a life time event in its entirety. 

   Maybe they will learn from this, or do they honestly think that most of their viewers felt they were watching a live event?

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