The Anger Games
This is an article from the Dec. 24, 2012 issue
NBC's tape-delayed coverage of the London Olympics produced plenty of negative commentary in the printed press. (The Guardian bemoaned the lack of a live Internet feed, writing, "This is not the 1940s, when families gathered by the radio to hear news and serials.") But that was an unqualified endorsement compared with the reception the network received from social media.
The Twitter hashtag #NBCFail trended often in the early days of the Games, as the network faced 140-character attacks over its decision to edit the opening ceremony and tape-delay high-profile events such as swimming finals featuring Michael Phelps (above). The banal banter from opening ceremony anchors Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira also fell under this tag (Slate said the two "engaged in a reverse battle of wits, fighting it out to see who knew least"), and inspired its own memorable social-media feed: a Storify titled "Shut Up, Matt Lauer."
NBC's promise to stream all sports live from London did not curtail the criticism, but in the end the publicity surrounding the animus didn't hurt the ratings. NBC drew 219.4 million total viewers for the Games, topping the Beijing Olympics by 4.4 million viewers as the most-watched television event ever in the U.S. In the all-important prime-time slot, NBC averaged 31.1 million viewers, the most for a non-U.S. Summer Olympics since 1976.
Though NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus termed the complainers a "loud minority," he said he would consider modifying NBC's strategy for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the '16 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But don't expect wholesale changes: By airing events on tape delay, NBC broke even for these Games after projecting a $200 million loss. "We have a responsibility to do the best we can for consumers, and we are respectful of that, but we also have to make sure we can make our investment pay off," said Lazarus, whose company paid $1.18 billion for the U.S. rights to the London Games. "I have seen a few people writing that the Olympics is a public trust. You know what? Give it to us for free and maybe we would do it differently."
ESPN's most valuable property underwent a dramatic makeover when the company announced last February that longtime NFL analyst Ron Jaworski had been cleared out of the Monday Night Football booth, leaving Mike Tirico and color commentator Jon Gruden as a two-man team. Why tweak the most-watched cable television show for six years running? So the network could ride the star of Gruden. The result was a less cluttered broadcast and more airtime for the ex-coach's insights into blitz packages, check-downs and other X/O nomenclature.
But Gruden's habit of over-the-top, often unmerited praise remains a major annoyance: This season he called Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo "a modern-day John Wayne" and hyperventilated about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler ("This gunslinger ... creates more plays for the Chicago Bears than Johnny Lujack did. Some of these throws take your breath away!") The bottom line for ESPN? The numbers are up. Through the first 14 weeks of the NFL season, Monday Night Football averaged 13.2 million viewers, up from 12.8 million at the same point last season.
A Tip of the Hat
On a scale of Kerri Strug (possibly the worst acting job ever, on 90210 in 1996) to Roy Hibbert (priceless on Parks and Recreation last year), here's how the prominent athletes who made TV cameos in 2012 rated.
< BAD / GOOD >
Saturday Night Live
Big brother apparently got all the comedic timing genes.
Aloha Stater's slightly hammy delivery fit right in with the rest of the cast's.
The serially shirtless swimmer, who raced Prince Harry (while wearing jeans) at a Vegas club over the summer, played a "sex idiot." And he nailed it, bro.
Saturday Night Live
Doesn't just provide fodder for great impressions. His portrayal of ultra-low-energy, neck-bearded colleague Shaquille O'Neal was anything but turrrible.
Played Penny Marshall's boyfriend in a scene that took place in a feminist bookstore called Women & Women First. Expertly delivered first line: "I like bologna too."
The Envelope, Please
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED media writer Richard Deitsch hands out a few awards for excellence (and one for not-so-excellence)
Broadcaster of the Year
Sure, no national announcer is more polarizing, but Buck's performance in 2012 was sensational, highlighted by his calling the Giants-49ers at Candlestick Park and the Cardinals-Giants playoff game at AT&T Park on the same day (Oct. 14). Most impressively, it followed a year in which a paralyzed nerve in his vocal cords nearly ended his career. Asked what pleased him the most about this year, Buck says, "I would say that answering the bell every week gave me a sense of pride, and powering through it would have pleased my dad."
Announcing Team of the Year:
AL MICHAELS AND CRIS COLLINSWORTH(NBC)
Ranking a shade above ABC/ESPN's terrific NBA team of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, the Sunday Night Football duo is fanatically prepared and gave a virtuoso performance at Super Bowl XLVI.
In his fourth year as a Football Night in America studio analyst, Harrison has morphed from ex-player mode into a thoughtful analyst, especially on the subject of concussions. His chemistry with Tony Dungy is terrific.
Knucklehead of the Year:
Along with his daily LeBron-baiting, Tebow-loving, carnival-barking nonsense, Bayless had to offer a public mea culpa last April when the Oklahoma City blog The Lost Ogle exposed him for lying about his high school basketball success.
Love, Man City Style
How did this not become a catchphrase? Manchester City won the Premier League with a goal on the final kick of the season—which sent the Sky Sports commentators into a state of hysteria and yielded the call of the year: Describing the celebration, Paul Merson screamed, "They're all cuddling each other! They've got love bites and everything!"
Call of The Wild
Nothing against the estimable Dan Hicks, but based on these two calls of the women's 400-meter freestyle at the London Games, who would you rather have poolside in 2016?
Hicks, on NBC:
"Camille Muffat of France ... is going to win the Olympic gold, and Allison Schmitt [of the U.S.], fighting every last meter, is going to get the silver."
@SamuelLJackson, on Twitter:
"Great women's 400 Freestyle .... 5 more meters & we'da caught dat French Ass!"
A Tip of the Hat
Last April, New Era launched an ad campaign featuring die-hard fans Nick Offerman of Parks and Recreation (Cubs) and Craig Robinson of The Office (White Sox). Over the course of three spots, the two try to outdeadpan each other (advantage Offerman: "All you've got on your hat is a stocking—something puppies like to chew on for recreation") before trading renditions of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" (advantage Robinson's Barry White--ified slow-jam version). Given the seasons had by the Cubs and the White Sox, this was the rare Chicago baseball--related programming worth watching in 2012.
It sounds absurd in theory and is wonderfully so in practice: To mark the Mayan-predicted apocalypse, Old Spice released a promotional online game in November in which a user-controlled Dikembe Mutombo must prevent Earth's demise. Along with distinctively raspy voice-overs from the eight-time NBA All-Star and with a finger-wagging cursor, Dikembe Mutombo's 4½ Weeks to Save the World features five adventures in which Mutombo and his sweater-clad guide Science the Bear must, for example, sabotage a lottery to prevent the funding of a teenage vampire flick and get Americans to vote instead of dancing to "Gangnam Style." Play it before it's too late ... for all of us.
Read Richard Deitsch's 2012 Media Circus Awards, highlighting the best and worst of the year, at SI.com/magazine