Tuned In

NBC’s Unkind Olympic Cut

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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.