Why I Get Annoyed at NBC’s Olympics Coverage

Ok, so a friend of mine is pinging me on Facebook for my disparaging comments on Bob Costas and wonders why I am so down on him. So, this is my attempt to explain my feelings on this vital-to-our-lives matter. First, let me preface this by saying that I am not a sports guy. I’m a big Red Sox fan and I love watching the Olympics. But I do not live and breathe baseball or Olympics statistics. I cannot name any athletes competing aside from those few famous names that everyone knows. I know a lot about the Red Sox but any dyed-in-the-wool fan can stat circles around me. I just enjoy what I enjoy and don’t really care to delve much deeper than that. I am not that guy in the bar who will go on for 45 minutes about some arcane subject while your eyes glaze over. Well, at least not about sports at any rate. So, that’s me. Casual fan.

But it is important that you know that about me. I do not know the history and origins of curling. I don’t know who the three greatest downhill skiers of all time are. I don’t know what makes someone a great skeleton sledder. And I think I might find all of that interesting. But when I am watching a competition, all I want to watch is the competition. If I am interested in those other facts, I can look them up. Or maybe NBC could provide a segment between events that describes the important things about those events. But, and here’s the point I am making, not during the event. I just want to see the events. I want the commentators to stay mostly quiet and only call out the most interesting things. “Oh! He hit the flag, that will cost him some time.” Not, “The slalom flag dates back to the ancient persians and downhill sand dune slalom…” I just want to enjoy the competition.

And that’s where Bob Costas bothers me more than anyone else. Of all the sports casters out there, he (in my experience anyway) is the most pedantic. He has to explain everything. He has to expound on every little detail. Ever quasi-interesting fact. He’s that guy at the dinner party who everyone tries to avoid getting stuck in a corner with. He’s Mr. Know-It-All, Mr. Here’s An Interesting Fact You Might Not Know, Mr. Hey, Didja Know… He’s just damned annoying. I remember watching one of those national televised Red Sox games. One of those games where we have to put up with someone other than our usual Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy. Usually it’s the Yankees-Sox game and it’s usually with announcers who faun all over the Yankees. We’ve all learned to watch those games with the TV volume off and the radio on instead. Anyway, one of those rare times when NBC carried a Sox game and Costas was the announcer of the game. The game was at Fenway and he spent so much time telling all the fun facts about Fenway park. How high the Green Monster was, what year the scoreboard went up, that the Yawkee’s initials are in morse code on the wall, that there’s 90 or whatever feet between the bases, that baseball’s have X number of stitches in them, blah, blah, blah. I get it. He knows a lot about baseball. If I want that stuff, I’ll re-watch the wonderful Ken Burns documentary. Costas is even quoted in it and is fine in that context. He’s doing it in the right place. During the game, I just want the game. Or maybe some interesting facts about what’s happening in the world of baseball right now. News from around the league. But not a history lesson. Not pedantic interesting facts.

I guess I feel that NBC’s style of coverage is like cable news: they have to fill every moment with content. No one is able to let a moment speak for itself any longer. We can’t just watch a play. We can’t just watch the opening ceremonies. We have to have things explained to us. We need interesting facts. We need pandering. Really? We do? Most people I know hate that. The number of people who posted on Facebook or on the MUSH on which I hung out with some friends as we group-watched the opening ceremonies last night all kept saying, “Shut up Bob!” over and over. So, who out there actually wants what he’s providing? NBC must believe most people want and need it but I don’t know who they are.

Well, maybe this friend of mine does. He defends Costas every time I go on one of these rants. He tells me that Costas is the best long-form sports interviewer out there. Maybe he is. Maybe I’ll watch some of his interviews and I will probably agree. But that’s fine. But I have yet to like his event coverage and that’s what I’m talking about here.

So, here’s my proposal to NBC: provide a secondary feed, either online or on one of your other channels and show the same video but with minimalist coverage. Some introduction and some light commentary during the event and otherwise get out of the way. Let Costas do what he’s good at: the interviews and the puff pieces (the ones I skip on TiVo because I don’t care how someone overcame chronic hangnail to make it to the Olympics) and let those of us who don’t want to be talked down to enjoy the sports without the headache. What do you think? You’re a smart network I mean look at what you did with Leno and Conan… oh wait. I forgot who I was talking to here. Never mind. Guess I can just watch with the mute button on…

[As a disclaimer: I say all of this without having seen a single event covered yet this year. This is based on previous years and on last night’s Almost-As-Bad-As-The-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-Coverage coverage of the Opening Ceremonies. I will happily say I was wrong if I find the coverage is better this year. You’ll forgive me if I am not terribly optimistic.]

EDIT: After watching coverage all day today (with more set to TiVo overnight as I head to bed) I will say that I am nothing but pleased with ALL of the coverage today. NBC is doing a fantastic job this time out. Even Bob’s few appearances were interesting, relevant, and entertaining. I skipped over most of the puff pieces but there weren’t that many. So, I am happy to say that I am not annoyed at all and have really been getting into the Olympics without being distracted by annoying commentary.