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)
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 PANORAMA: Re-live the Opening Ceremony)
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.