NBC’s filtered view of the Rio Games delivered on the things that mattered

NBC's coverage of the Olympics ran the gamut from heavy coverage of U.S. teams to breaking news to the usual heart-wrenching profiles of athletes.
(Patrick Raycraft / Hartford Courant)

On the first Saturday afternoon of the Olympics, NBC’s images of road cycling were so dazzling that the scenes could have been lifted from a travel promotion ad by the Rio de Janeiro tourist board.

The mostly aerial shots that tracked the bikes along the coastline displayed charmingly winding roads, granite peaks, blue-green ocean waves splashing against rocks and houses (some pink) quaintly clinging to hillsides.

Who among did not consider firing up our laptops to begin researching our next possible vacation destination?

Of course, the bird’s-eye views neglected to capture Rio’s dark side — the slums and the crime, the shoddy transportation system and the pollution. Had our TV sets contained Smell-O-Vision, we might have whiffed the acrid odor that plagues parts of the host city.


The cycling coverage provided a metaphor for how we have watched these Olympics. Blinders went on to block the distractions — some old, some new — of drug-consuming athletes, IOC/sports federation corruption, profligate public spending and a certain mosquito-borne disease.

We’ve engaged in self-hypnosis to convince ourselves that the great bodies in swimsuits and track singlets are all clean, the administrators are not profiting at the athletes’ expense and a financial windfall will enhance the lives of the locals.

We’ve latched onto what remnants of innocence remains in the Games, and we’ve embraced the televised flashes of sportsmanship and hard-luck stories that NBC went out of its way to convey.

Naturally, we cannot resist engaging in fault-finding with the network. It’s what we do.

Too much coverage of unpleasant news. (Don’t they know we tune in as an escape?) Not enough coverage. (Darned network is protecting the brand.)

Too much coverage of Team USA members. (How jingoistic of it.) Too much air time for other nations’ athletes. (Why should we care about them?)

Too many hackneyed how-does-it-feel questions of panting athletes. (Give ‘em a break.) Too little time between competition and interview for athletes to catch their breath. (Give ‘em another sort of break.)

Too many commercials. (OK, this one might be legit, but it’s like watching a public television station compared to an ad-choked NFL game.)

With a bazillion hours on air, it is as easy as a Usain Bolt jog for viewers to find reasons to fuss. That NBC devotes so much to the Games is a blessing, though some brickbats are warranted:

-- A few rookie analysts need more training — or replacing. Coming to mind is the fellow working field events at the track stadium who referred to a female athlete as “girl” and rooted for a U.S. participant.

-- Announcers and producers must be aware that, just because an athlete does not violate rules with a strategic tactic, it requires full attention. Shaunae Miller’s dive across the finish line in the 400 meters was downplayed by the track and field crew, unaware how social media would explode with reaction over whether the move was permissible and justifiable.

-- And what was with the extended late-night studio chat with Shaun White from the not-so-summer sport of snowboarding? We stayed up to midnight for that? Too bad Bob Costas did not inquire about allegations of sexual harassment that were disclosed the next day.

-- In hindsight, NBC likely wishes it had aired another visit from the ubiquitous Michael Phelps, who apparently cloned himself, as many interviews as he did.

Much of the criticism was a ridiculous reach. Get a load of this headline on the Forbes website: “How NBC’s Olympics Coverage Could Hurt Kids’ Athletic Ambitions,” followed by the argument that the network should carry lesser exposed sports so youngsters can learn about them.

You gotta be kidding. Besides failing to recognize that every sport was shown somewhere on the array of NBC’s tentacle channels, the author suggests that portions on the main telecasts should have been carved out for niche sports at the expense of viewers’ most popular ones.

Shame on network brass for not adopting a ratings-killing approach.

On the subject of ratings, NBC might tone down the daily bragging over the Games drawing larger audiences than summer reruns or lame offerings on rival networks. Phelps or Bolt would not boast of beating someone from Chad.

Besides, ratings are becoming less meaningful and will continue in that direction as we absorb the Games in various ways.

The blinders got removed Sunday with the Closing Ceremony. Keep them handy for imminent use. Concussion-plagued football is right around the corner.