Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.
Worst of the weekend
Is there anything on television that talks down to viewers more than a networkís coverage of an Olympics opening ceremony? Other than maybe Thanksgiving or Christmas parades, the answer is no, nothing on TV patronizes viewers more than an Olympics opening ceremony.
This year, it was NBCís Mike Tirico and Katie Couric who took turns treating viewers like second-graders with bad humor, condescending tones and stories that felt lifted straight from Wikipedia.
It wasnít entirely the fault of the hosts. Networks have never been able to figure out how to reach what is such a large and odd audience. The viewers donít fit into one neat category. What makes it especially difficult is itís technically a sports show for viewers who really arenít typical, diehard sports fans.
The mistake networks make is trying to spice up a show that really doesnít need to be spiced up. The pageantry is more than enough to satisfy the viewer. And other than, occasionally, explaining the meaning of a particular piece of music or dance or costume, the hosts need not fill time with scripted conversation that isnít as funny or as entertaining as the hosts think it is.
If any live television show can benefit from the hosts realizing that silence is golden, itís an opening ceremony.
That need to constantly fill time with forced banter not only can be annoying, but it can lead to awful missteps, as NBC found out Friday night when news analyst Joshua Cooper Ramo said something incredibly idiotic. In speaking about the Japanese delegation, Ramo mentioned Japanís occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, then added, "Every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, and technological, and economic example, has been so important to their own transformation.íí
The immediate reaction, particularly in Korea, was outrage because the period of Japanese colonial rule was characterized by executions, forced labor and rape.
In a scathing criticism, the Korea Herald wrote, "Some say itís questionable whether Ramo has been even following the news leading up to the current Olympics, as some of the disputes between South Korea and Japan erupted even during the preparation phase of the games.íí
It was an inexcusable remark made all the more flabbergasting by the fact that it was made by a network reporter who is supposed to be an authority on world history and events.
NBC ended up reading an apology over the weekend that said, in part, "We understand the Korean people were insulted by these comments and we apologize.íí
Perhaps NBC can use this as a cautionary tale for what happens when Olympic hosts treat the viewer with such little respect by not realizing we are capable of watching something without constantly being told why we are watching it.
You donít have to jingle keys to get us to pay attention.
Best of the Olympics
The Olympics have only just begun, but thereís no doubt about the best part of NBCís coverage. Itís the figure skating analyst team of Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir. Intelligent, charismatic, honest, unafraid, funny. Everything about this duo is completely mesmerizing. Itís rare in sports broadcasting when the announcing team, as opposed to the athletes, is the best reason to watch an event. Iím far from a figure skating fan, but figure skating has become must-see TV because of Lipinski and Weir.
The key to the two is they completely understand their audience, and therefore donít speak over anyoneís heads with a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo. They will tell viewers exactly what they are watching, and arenít afraid to be critical when a skater messes up, but they arenít nasty about it.
NBC has struck gold with these two.
Outstanding work by Fox Sports Sun covering the Vinny Lecavalier number retirement ceremony on Saturday. And kudos to the Lightning for the classy festivities. These things can get over the top and schmaltzy if organizations arenít careful, but, same as the Marty St. Louis ceremony a year ago, the Lightning struck the right balance between fully celebrating Lecavalierís career and not overdoing it.
Maybe the Michael Smith and Jemele Hill SportsCenter was never going to work, but ESPN didnít give it much of a chance. The best part of these two ó and the reason we thought they were paired to begin with ó was their strong opinions and on-camera chemistry. Yet ESPN, perhaps scared off by the twoís political views, muted them. If I was ESPN, I would have doubled down. If youíre going invest in Smith and Hill because they have strong voices, let those strong voices be heard, even if itís about politics. Itís what their fans wanted and if you donít like their views, you probably werenít watching to begin with.
Anyway, Smith had some strong comments on Jim Millerís Origins podcast:
"There was a time we werenít even talking to each other (on air) anymore. Like no more Michael and Jemele, not less, not here and there. No more Michael and Jemele talking. No more of their commentary. Itís just strictly live shots and analysts. Thatís what (ticked) me off so much. I was like, wait a second, you all acknowledge that one of the strengths we have going for us as a show is Michael and Jemeleís chemistry, but Michael and Jemele donít talk to each other? How does that make sense?"
By the way, be sure to check out the Origins podcast, which looks at the origins of such shows as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Pardon the Interruption and College GameDay. Itís one of the more entertaining podcasts out there right now.
ē ABCís Saturday Night NBA Primetime game between the Warriors and Spurs featured analyst Hubie Brown, the 84-year-old who remains as good as any analyst in any sport on TV.
ē Smart move by MLB Network to hire former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who has a good on-camera presence. However, how long before he is back in a dugout managing again?
ē This yearís NCAA basketball tournament selection show will shift to TBS for the first time. The show is scheduled for March 11 at 6 p.m.
Three things that popped into my head
1. While the temptation might be to invite more to the rafters, the Lightning should resist retiring any more numbers for the foreseeable future. As of now, no other Lightning player deserves to have that highest of honors.
2. Hard to believe pitchers and catchers report this week. Harder to believe that the Rays have a chance in the American League East.
3. Good to see NASCAR back on television over the weekend. Next Sunday, Fox will air the season-opening Daytona 500, which is the best thing Fox does. Foxís Daytona coverage rivals that of HBO boxing, CBSís Final Four and Masters coverage, NBCís Sunday Night Football and ESPNís Saturday night college football, as the best sports event coverage on television.
tom jonesí two cents