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NBC’s Coverage of Opening Draws Praise--From NBC

If the coverage of the opening ceremony is an indication of how NBC will do in its first Summer Olympics since 1964, pull up a chair. You’re in for a good show.

Bryant Gumbel and Dick Enberg were the stars during Friday night’s 4-hour telecast. The two were geared up for this assignment, loaded with all kinds of information.

Gumbel and Enberg, during the parade of nations, continually offered such tidbits as the fact that there are 734 medals awarded, that 83 countries have never won a medal and that 109 have never won a gold.

“Bryant and Dick worked very well together,” said Michael Weisman, who, as NBC Sports’ executive producer, hardly was likely to be critical of the telecast. “They had a lot of information at their fingertips and were easy to listen to.”

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Of course, it was not a perfect telecast.

Gumbel slipped up once when, coming back from a commercial as the Vietnam delegation was on camera, he said, “Back in Vietnam . . . I mean back in Seoul.”

Among the delegations whose entrance into the Olympic Stadium wasn’t shown was Mexico’s, which was unfortunate, considering the the large Mexican-American population in this country.

But, overall, everything went smoothly.

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NBC opened with a nine-minute history of the modern Olympics, the same piece it used to open its two-hour preview show Thursday night.

‘No,” said NBC spokesman Kevin Monaghan from Seoul, “we won’t be using that piece again. We’ll have too much action to cover for that luxury.

“We used it twice because, after some discussion, we decided a lot of people would like to see it again.”

That was good thinking.

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NBC offered an interesting feature early in the telecast on South Korea’s Sohn Kee Chung, who would later carry the Olympic torch into the stadium. Sohn, winner of the 1936 Olympic marathon, had to run under a different name and for a different country that year because of Japan’s control of Korea at that time.

The official record said that Kitei Son of Japan won the 1936 marathon. It was a sad time for Sohn, but, now 76, he was hardly sad as he jumped up and down during his lap around Olympic Stadium.

Tom Brokaw, who was used appropriately, did an informative feature on North Korea and its president, Kim Il Sung.

“They are satisfied people because they are told to be satisfied,” Brokaw said.

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He said that it is not known whether the Olympics will be shown on North Korean television (it was), and noted that the North Koreans might not want to show what South Korea is like.

“How do you take your children to Disneyland and tell them that it’s not good for them?” Brokaw asked.

When white-clad dancers, performing prior to the parade of nations, spelled out “WELCOME” Enberg said: “We trust you can read upside down, but, if you can’t, we’ll take care of that in a second.”

The dancers then spelled “WELCOME” facing the other way, which Enberg obviously knew was coming.

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Leading the parade of nations, as is always the case, was Greece, the host nation of the first Olympics. Then came Ghana. Why Ghana? Gumbel explained that the nations entered in the order of the Korean alphabet.

After the 600-member U.S. delegation entered the stadium and spread out in a disorderly fashion, Enberg said: “The U.S. won’t get a 10 for parade marching.”

When a banner carried by U.S. fencers was shown, Gumbel said that it was one way for the fencers to get on camera.

Said Enberg: “They really don’t have much chance at a medal and are worried they’re not going to get any air time. I guess they’re taking a little jab at us (NBC) for that.”

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It was a nice touch for Carl Lewis and swimmer Mary T. Meagher to be fitted with microphones.

“We made some Olympic history there,” Weisman said. “Never before has an athlete been wired during an opening ceremony.”

Lewis revealed more animation and personality than he’s ever shown. He was almost as bubbly as Mary Lou Retton.

“It’s the second time around for me, but I’m getting the same chills,” he said with a big smile.

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Because he feels less pressure this time, Lewis said: “This is so much nicer. The people here have been great. You can feel the Olympic spirit, and that’s the important thing.”

Balloons and doves added to the pageantry, but there were some anxious moments when some doves decided to perch atop the Olympic flame before it was lit. However, once the flame exploded, the doves wisely left in a hurry.

About the doves, Olympic veteran Edwin Moses, earlier interviewed by Jimmy Cefalo, had this to say: “I’ve learned you carry a newspaper to put on top of your head when they let them go.”

There were fireworks, too, but daytime fireworks (it was mid-day Saturday in Seoul) just seem to lack something.

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Bob Costas was in NBC’s main studio, and when NBC first went to him late in the telecast, he had Gina Hemphill-Tillman with him. The granddaughter of Jesse Owens was there to talk about her experience as a torch-carrier in 1984.

Also, Costas told an interesting story about her. He noted that heavyweight boxer Henry Tillman, who twice beat Mike Tyson to make the Olympic team in 1984, took Hemphill’s picture as she circled the Coliseum.

“Tillman’s first view of Gina was through a view finder, and now he is married to her,” Costas said.

The second time NBC went to Costas he was with Mary Lou Retton and Dwight Stones. Retton, who was also Thursday night’s preview show, may have startled viewers. With a somewhat wild hairdo, she sure doesn’t look like she did in 1984. But the smile is still there.

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The last hour of NBC’s telecast showed the color and the pageantry that has come to be associated with the Olympics.

In the final analysis, the South Koreans did well, and so did NBC. “We’re only in the second inning, but counting our preview show I think we’re 2 for 2,” Weisman said.


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