Friday, February 12, 2010

Williams, Costas Lead CTV, NBC into 2010 Olympic Winter Games

Tonight's the night, Canada. CTV, Rogers and other members of the broadcast consortium will deliver the first made-in-Canada broadcast of the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games, live from Vancouver.
When I spoke with prime time host Brian Williams earlier this week, he said the facilities at the International Broadcast Centre are "jaw-dropping." This from a guy who has covered a dozen previous Olympic Games, 11 as host.
Williams says he'll be sitting in the studio throwing to correspondents like TSN's Jennifer Hedger (above, right), who will be on the ski hill in Whistler. He'll be looking at her on a brand-new, high-definition plasma screen from Panasonic, one of 15 like it in the world.
"It's all pretty mind boggling," says Williams. The consortium feed will go out to all nations in high definition. Williams says they'll have cameras covering "every minute of every event." The show will air in 13 languages and will stream on lap tops, iphones and devices not event invented at the time of the last Olympics four years ago in Turin, Italy. "The bar is advanced by technology alone every time you do it," says Williams.
For more on his take on tonight's big show, go here to my interview with Williams for The Canadian Press.
Now if only the weather will cooporate. Rain and fog have plagued Vancouver today. Letterman has been making jokes all week about sunny Vancouver.
The worst happened this morning at the Whistler sliding track when a 21-year-old Georgian luger was killed in a training run. The terrible accident puts everything else in perspective.
It is a sobering reminder that not all the news that comes out of a Games is happy and uplifting. The Israeli athletes murdered in 1972 in Munich challenged sportscasters to provide stories viewers weren't prepared for and probably did not want to hear.
Having an experienced bench on both the U.S. and Canadian Olympic broadcast teams will be key to covering these Games, whatever events unfold. NBC is, as usual, bringing their A-team. Bob Costas will mark his eighth appearance as prime time network host. That's three behind Williams, so already Canada leads the USA 11-8.
NBC now also has Al Michaels on their side. The long time ABC veteran hasn't been in an Olympic booth since Calgary in 1988, ABC's last Winter Games broadcast. Michaels, of course, gave perhaps the most famous call in sports television history when he asked viewers "do you believe in miracles?" as the upstart Americans won hockey gold in 1980 in Lake Placid--30 years ago this month.
Michaels told critics in Pasadena last month (the NBC Olympic team was live via satellite from Dallas) that the only reason he wound up calling the Olympic hockey games in Lake Placid was because--back when he was a young baseball announcer for the Cincinnati Reds--he was hired by NBC in 1972 to work the Sapporo Olympics in Japan. "There were only eight announcers including Curt Gowdy and Jay Randolph and Jim Simpson and Peggy Fleming," he says, "and I was assigned to do the gold-medal hockey game. So having done that game, when it came time for the assignments to be given out in 1980 by ABC on a staff that included Frank Gifford, Keith Jackson, Jim McKay, Howard Cosell, Chris Schenkel, I was the only guy who had ever done a hockey game. I was the only guy who knew what off side was."
Costa raved about Vancouver to critics, praising it as a wonderful setting for the Games. "It's one of the great cities in North America," he said. "When you expand out from the city itself and out to the countryside and the mountain-scape, Whistler Mountain and whatnot, this is going to be completely breathtaking, especially in HD."
Most Canadians will be glued to the CTV/Rogers consortium feed, but NBC plans to provide a spectacular second window on the games. "We're going to be have 835 hours of competition from Vancouver, largely live, and that represents a total double any previous Winter Olympics."
All of it, of course, will be in high-definition. Ebersol also says Americans will give Canadians and other nations a run for the medals in most events over the next two weeks. "This is the first time in my lifetime--and I'm now 62 years old--that we are sending to a Winter Olympics the dominant winter sports team in the world." Ebersol says of the 15 different sports in the Winter Olympics, Americans will have reigning world champions "in some part of the discipline of 13 of those 15 sports. That's just unheard of."
Ebersol says he can remember watching the 1964 Winter Olympics on television. "The United States won one medal," he says. Four years later, at Ebersol's first Games as a producer, Peggy Fleming won the only American gold medal. "So I think there's going to be a great attachment by the audience to the success of the American athletes."
Not that all of NBC's coverage will be the usual red, white and blue flag waving, promises Ebersol. "We're here to cover American stories," he acknowledges. "But the flip side of it is some of the most important stories that have ever been told about the Olympics, whether they've been by ABC before us or by us, have always been about international athletes. You go where the stories are."
NBC will be live from Vancouver starting at 7:30 tonight. CTV's Olympic Prime coverage begins at 7, with the actual opening ceremonies set to launch around 8:45 p.m. ET. Let the Games begin. I'll be locked in front of a set, flipping back and forth between the Canadian and U.S. feeds and filing my impressions for The Canadian Press around midnight. Pass the remote, and let the Games begin.
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