Now that ABC has completed its version of the long program, it is time for final marks. After 16 days in Calgary, the network that has brought us the four most recent Winter Olympic Games seemed old, tired and too set in its ways. No 6.0's in 1988. And here are the marks:
TECHNICAL MERIT: 5.9. Sports television has never had better pictures and sound than those seen and heard in Calgary. Directors Doug Wilson and Jim Jennett enhanced figure skating and Alpine skiing. But technical proficiency alone doesn't make it.
ARTISTIC IMPRESSION: 4.2. Calgary became the formula Olympics for ABC. The standard sequence went like this: some talking heads, an Up Close and Personal, coverage of the event and then an interview. Over and over and over again. In the studio Jim McKay kept telling us how exciting it all was and how much we were going to enjoy the next day's show. Does ABC think we are too dense to determine for ourselves how we feel?
As the Games wound down, we yearned for anything unpredictable. One fresh segment was Thursday's extended live coverage of Alberto Tomba's giant slalom gold medal ceremony, which gave viewers a real sense of what it was like to be there. But that was a rarity. ABC much preferred to romance us from the studio—air a set-up interview or cut to another event—rather than find a novel way of covering a story.
March 7, 1988
Several features, such as the one in which Dick Button explained spinning techniques and how figure skaters learn to spin without getting dizzy, were outstanding. But unlike ABC's minifea-tures at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, the minifeatures from Calgary seemed stamped out, cookie-cutter style.
ANNOUNCING: 4.0. With the exception of Al Michaels, Ken Dryden, Button and a few others, the talkers overwhelmed us. Gary Bender and Eric Heiden all but ruined Bonnie Blair's 500-meter speed skating victory with their nonstop yammering. Do they pay these guys by the word?
INTERVIEWING: 1.0. The formula approach requires obtuse questions after almost every event. Rarely is anything learned. Q: How does it feel to win the gold medal, Susie? A: Great! Q: What do you have to do to win tomorrow, Ralph? A: Keep skating well. Hoo-boy. Better to discard the interviews when there's nothing to ask and analyze the performances instead.
When questions did beg to be asked, ABC's interviewers, with the exception of McKay, generally asked the wrong ones. Take the ladies' figure skating short program on Thursday, during which the crowd hooted Debi Thomas's marks and her coach, Alex McGowan, gesticulated angrily. Peggy Fleming's first question to Thomas was about what she would do on Saturday night. Help!
FINAL WEEKEND: 5.4. The ladies' free skating long program on Saturday night contained some of the most memorable scenes of the Games, including Japan's Midori Ito sobbing with joy and Canada's Elizabeth Manley being lifted by one of her coaches. It also featured several lowlights: ABC promoted the meeting of Tomba and Katarina Witt as if it were a network soap opera; Button pointed out an ABC pin on the cowboy hat a supporter gave Manley; the network never told us where Ito finished in the standings; and ABC's cameras invaded Caryn Kadavy's sickroom for a shot of her after the competition. Coverage of the closing ceremonies, however, conveyed just the right bittersweet tone.
JOURNALISM: 1.5. Instead of pursuing controversial stories, ABC reacted to them only when they could no longer be ignored. Not until Feb. 22, eight days after the wind began playing havoc with some events, did ABC air a report on the controversy over the location of the ski jump. It also failed to discuss the disappointing U.S. medal count until the night before the USOC named a task force to examine the issue. Both of these negative stories were introduced in the late-night wrap-up show, where they were sure to have minimal impact.
STUDIO PERFORMANCE: 3.0. Truth is, for all his warmth and storytelling ability, McKay has slipped. The longer the Olympics went on, the more he sounded like professor Harold Hill, the con artist in The Music Man. In some ways, the "Frank and Kathie Lee Gif-ford show" went from bad to worse. On Thursday night they had a nonsensical piece on pandas at the zoo. One half-expected to see Marlin Perkins discussing U.S. gold medal chances.
McKay, Roone Arledge and their colleagues once defined Olympic television, but they may have stayed for one Olympics too many. For Calgary, we give them an overall score of about 4.8.