In an interview with Joe Posnanski, long-time NBC Olympics czar Dick Ebersol (OK, so he was technically the NBC Sports chairman and network executive producer) bared his soul. The man who single-handedly has been shaping the way America watches the Olympics since 1992 in Barcelona, thinks the flak his Olympic coverage swan song is getting is unwarranted. What you see as sport, he sees as television.
Ebersol retired from his post last year and while he’s been devoting less time to these London Games, he is still very much a part of the creative process. He staunchly defended his broadcast approach, and to his credit, the ratings NBC has been racking up will make these Olympics the most watched event in American television history — dethroning the Beijing Games.
Now back to that teeny tiny fundamental gap Dick was talking about. Here’s a snippit from Ebersol himself:
“The Olympics are the biggest family television there is. The Olympics are some of the last events where a whole family can gather around a television set and spend the night together.”
“People talk about how we should treat this like sports? You know, we’re getting an 18 rating some nights. Do you know what rating we would get if this was not under the banner of the Olympics? We’d be lucky to get a 1 rating for some of these sports. … This is our business model. The newspaper people have their own business model. We’re in the television business. We’re here to make great television.”
There’s obviously credence to Ebersol’s firm business-like stance behind his Olympics coverage. There’s also credence to everyone who wants to burn NBC at the stake for tape delaying basically every important event the Olympics have had to offer. Somewhere though, there has to be a middle ground. Great sport and great television are not mutually exclusive and viewers would benefit if NBC execs and NBC critics could come to a happy medium in the murky middle of their black-and-white ideologies. It just can’t possibly be as yin and yang as Ebersol indicates.
Heed warning though if you’re ticked off by NBC’s broadcast approach and if you’re ready to snap back at Ebersol, because the man has many legs to stand on. He is the brainchild behind Sunday Night Football and Saturday Night Live and he’s been around the block enough times to know what works. Yes, his words come blatantly out of the mouth of a CEO (because NBC broadcasters wouldn’t dare stoop to the BBC’s level and cheer for their athletes, right?) and that might peeve some, but the numbers are working in his favor, even if public opinion is not.
[Joe Blog, photo via Getty]