EndGames In an imaginary colloquy, NBC's top talents ponder why the Olympics are a ratings dud

October 01, 2000

ANNOUNCER: Once again, from the NBC Olympic broadcast center in
Sydney, here's Bob Costas.

BOB COSTAS: Welcome back, everyone. Joining me for Hour 12 of Day
15 to begin Week 3 of our coverage is NBC anchor Mr. Tom Brokaw.

TOM BROKAW: Thanks, Bob. You make it sound like a hostage crisis!
Ha-ha-ha!

BC: Ha-ha-ha! If only! Then we might pull a rating! But
seriously, that was another terrific profile we just saw--the
excitingly edited story of an athlete overcoming incredible
adversity to chase her golden dreams.

TB: Indeed. As I said several hours ago, before we went to that
last commercial break, I've never met a braver young woman. She
survived a water-park flume accident that took the lives of her
foster parents and her parole officers, escaped the bloody
collapse of her home government by crossing the border in an
overnight prepaid bulk mailer and, using only a toaster oven and
some Knox gelatin, perfected the serum with which she saved the
lives of her 23 brothers and sisters during a virulent outbreak
of....

BC: Tom, excuse me for interrupting, but I'm receiving
late-breaking word from network headquarters that our sole
remaining viewer, a Mr. Leopold Zipp of Urbana, Illinois, has
just turned off his TV set. Citing fatigue and tomorrow's VFW
pancake breakfast, Mr. Zipp notified NBC Sports chairman Dick
Ebersol via telephone that he would try to rejoin us Saturday or
Sunday. Maybe. After he puts up the storm windows. So....

TB: So.

BC: Well. There it is. This is awkward.

TB: I wasn't expecting this. Were you?

BC: You'd think people would watch the Olympics. Who doesn't
watch the Olympics?

TB: America, apparently.

BC: It's embarrassing.

TB: They say there's no suspense. People see the results so early
in the day. All that sexy new technology....

BC: You mean like radio? The morning newspaper?

TB: What with the TV critics, the Internet, the time difference,
the 500 channels, the network erosion, the lack of a single
compelling story or personality, we were doomed. Millions down
the rathole, Dick Ebersol circling the drain....

BC: Maybe we needed to treat the Games differently, stop
pretending they're a sports event in the real world. They're not.
They're a television show. And we're not producing it very well.
We need to get David E. Kelley in here...

TB: ...teach the cast of Friends to swim...

BC: ...put Britney Spears on the trampoline...

TB: ...something.

BC: For the kind of money we're paying we're entitled to more
drama than a poorly measured vaulting horse. Whatever happened to
genuine reality, anyway?

TB: It tests poorly with focus groups. Real reality doesn't sell.
Staged reality sells.

BC: The naked fat guy?

TB: The naked fat guy. The WWF. The candidates on Oprah.

BC: Well, lower your expectations enough and you'll never be
disappointed, I guess. O.K. We've got several hundred more hours
to fill. How'd things turn out for that young lady, Tom?

TB: What? Oh, sorry, I was just wondering if I could get an
earlier flight home.... Who's that again?

BC: Flume? Serum? Indomitable spirit?

TB: Finished 78th in her qualifying heat. But plucky.

BC: Good for her. We'll be right back after these messages.
(They do not move.)

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)