NBC got right to the point Friday night by opening its coverage of the 2016 Rio Games as it inevitably had to, with Bob Costas, named in the Constitution as the United States’ official Olympic host, doing what he does: putting it in perspective.
“The striking vista of Copacabana Beach on a Friday evening in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,” Commack’s own said, “where tonight, amid a mixture of anticipation, excitement, curiosity, controversy and concern, the Games of the 31st Olympiad officially commence, with an Opening Ceremony at storied Maracana Stadium, promising music, dancing and a spirit for revelry that endures in the face of everything else, as a Brazilian signature.”
So there you have it. Drive home safely, and see you at the actual sports events this weekend!
Oh, wait . . . There was another five or so hours of coverage to come from the Opening Ceremony at Maracana.
It was a long, sometimes tortuous evening, but while avid sports fans might scoff at these spectacles, many millions of people do care, and watch.
Based on historical norms, ratings for the show will shatter most other non-football-related sports programs this year.
Anyway, Costas’ open was followed by a five-minute film setting the scene and whetting appetites for the superstar athletes to come, notably American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
Amid the film’s schmaltzy elements, there were more nods to the many months of assorted concerns leading up to the Games in Rio.
“Long before tonight,” the narrator said, “the realities of the world have always shadowed the ambitions of the idea. Long before Brazil, there have been reasons to wonder if such a worthy gathering can continue to thrive.
“But over the next 17 days and nights, in Rio de Janeiro, celebration will once again seek to prevail.”
The first commercial was an appropriate one, given the business logic that underpins much of what the Peacocks pay for the Games: It was a promo for the upcoming season of an NBC show called “Chicago Med.”
NBC again opted to show the Opening Ceremony on a delay, this time by only an hour thanks to Rio’s favorable time zone, both on television and online.
This annoyed some viewers, but it’s not nearly as annoying as tape-delayed actual sports competitions.
After all, the only real news of the night was the identity of the final Olympic torch carrier, after Pele announced that ill health would disqualify him.
Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and Hoda Kotb hosted the ceremony, driving home the point this was not a sports event but rather a sports-related entertainment product.
(Costas did appear on camera in the studio before the Opening Ceremony began, chatting with golf analyst David Feherty, who was shown interviewing President Barack Obama about the Olympics.)
The ceremony’s producers promised a show that would be kept simple and would celebrate not just Brazil but all of mankind. The keeping-it-simple part could have been related to what was a smaller budget than for other recent Opening Ceremonies in places such as Beijing, London and Sochi.
As NBC knows — and is counting on — for all of the problems, there is something about the Olympics that resonates with viewers across generations, a pageant that will play out until two weeks from Sunday.
When the Olympic theme ABC made famous starting in 1968, “Bugler’s Dream,” first played at 8:02 p.m., it surely warmed the hearts of many a baby boomer.
The show itself began at the beginning in telling the story of Brazil, with depictions of the primordial soup that eventually led to elite athletes and other highly evolved humans, such as Gisele Bundchen, a Brazilian supermodel and Patriots fan.
Bundchen sashayed her way across the stadium to the familiar tune of “The Girl from Ipanema” in a high-slit dress. NBC’s announcers said that after Friday night, she planned to retire from such catwalks, a deflating notion.
Mostly, the show featured a lot of colorful outfits and dancing, because, well, it’s Brazil!
One nice touch in NBC’s coverage was having the show’s producers describe what they were going for as the event was unfolding, including a radical tone change from party time to a long segment on the effects of climate change.
Lauer warned American viewers that the United States would join the alphabetical Parade of Nations earlier than usual because its name in Portuguese starts with an “E,” not a “U.”
He did not mention the Bloomberg report that NBC unsuccessfully sought to have Team USA retain its usual spot later in the order, the better to retain U.S. television viewers.
The Americans arrived — at least according to NBC Time — at about 10:05 p.m., and like every other delegation in the parade, the majority of athletes carried smartphones to record the rest of the world watching them.
Meanwhile, at 10:10 p.m., viewers elsewhere in the world who were watching live began getting itchy waiting for speeches to end and for the torch to be lit, a hint that Americans in the East would have to wait until well after 12 to see the big, tape-delayed moment. (One of those speeches, by former Kenyan runner Kip Keino, ended up getting cut from NBC’s delayed telecast.)
As it turned out, it was not until around 10:50 p.m. that Brazilian marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima lit the torch, much to the relief of sleepy Europeans watching early Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, back on NBC, the Parade of Nations dragged on, providing a valuable geography lesson: There are too many nations.
Lauer, Vieira and Kotb did their best to keep up their spirits and energy. Given the challenge, they did what they could. At 11:30 p.m., Lauer had the line of the night: “Are we at Timor-Leste already? This is flying by.”
The host Brazilians came into the stadium at about 11:45 on the delayed broadcast, bringing a merciful end to the long, long march.
Presumably at some point after midnight, the American TV audience saw the torch lit. I took the Europeans’ and Canadians’ words for it and went to bed.