There are only four parts of the Olympics that I watch faithfully: the opening ceremonies, the closing ceremonies, gymnastics and ice skating. Anything else is accidental, or a particular athlete or unusual sport has caught my attention.
Last night, I was watching the opening ceremonies and was ready to crawl through the TV screen and slap Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer. I just wanted them to shut up.
Ever since NBC took the Olympics from ABC, the aggravation level has been growing. I miss Jim MacKay. He knew when to let the show speak for itself and when explanations were needed. Most Olympic opening ceremonies involve a historical montage of the host city or nation. But they also have an announcer, to help those in the stadium and watching at home understand what is being stylistically represented. The announcer’s voice-over is tightly scripted so as to not interfere with the audience’s enjoyment. Vieira and Lauer, however, were so enthralled with themselves and their scripted knowledge of the subject matter that they were oblivious to how irritating they were. And it was really annoying when they didn’t know what they were looking at or talking about.
Okay, we got the idea before the show started that the decision to build the Olympic Stadium in the East End of London was welcome because of the urban renewal that would accompany it. We understood all that. But the dumbest thing that came out of Vieira’s mouth last night was the description during the show of the East End as having been blighted “for quite a while.” “Quite a while”? Try “for centuries.” My friend Barbara, who grew up in London during World War II once quipped that some people considered the blitz an improvement for the East End. Any fan of Victorian England mysteries knows the East End well – it was Jack the Ripper’s hunting ground. My extraordinary London Eyewitness Travel Guide doesn’t even include the East End.
And where we could use some explanation, Vieira and Lauer didn’t have anything to say, which segues into the my big complaint…..
All ice skating and several gymnastic events have musical accompaniments. ABC always did a decent job of naming the piece of music. NBC is spotty at best with ice skating and was completely silent about the music – other than particular performances – last night. We were told the name of one of the four songs sung by children’s choirs around the United Kingdom (okay, most people would recognize “Londonderry Air” aka “Danny Boy.”), but what were the other two? Depending on one’s age, one could identify some of the songs in the Frankie and June segment. NBC had six hours to prep this for American audiences. Would it have killed them to caption each piece of music? It was nice of Matt Lauer to tell us what a great cover of “Come Together” Flying Monkeys was doing, because we couldn’t hear them over Lauer’s yakking. When he did shut up, we still couldn’t hear the lead singer. We couldn’t hear the Queen opening the games, either. In a nation filled with top-notch sound engineers, NBC couldn’t find one to filter the background and enhance the Queen? In all fairness to NBC, what was wrong with Danny Boyle? I know they couldn’t do a sound check with the Queen, but why wasn’t the audio problem found during rehearsals?
Coming in third for aggravations was a lack of identification of people in the audience. That guy in the dog collar sitting behind the Queen was the Archbishop of Canterbury. The show is not about the people watching it, but couldn’t we manage one less close-up of the Duchess of Cambridge and one picture of our First Lady? Maybe a panning shot of who was meant by “majesties” and “highnesses”?
Opening and closing ceremonies are not sports events. They should not be treated like sports events. We don’t need a constant running dialogue about what is going on on the field. No one would do a running commentary during a stage play or a concert, and that is what the ceremonies are. NBC did a better job at Vancouver and Beijing. If this is a preview of the way they are going to do the ceremonies from now on, I think I’ll pass on the edited version and get out of bed at whatever time is necessary to watch the live streaming feed.
One rave, among all this ranting….the Olympic cauldron is awesome! I expected it to be the tower above the stadium, but those 200+ “leaves” rising up to form that beautiful, organic bouquet of flames is breathtaking.