Bob Costas’ studio interview with American gymnasts Simone Biles and Aly Raisman following their gold and silver-medal winning floor routines was cringe-worthy television.
With two champion Olympians on the set, the focus was on a surprise meeting, arranged by NBC, with actor Zac Efron, whether they’ll binge on bad food and a bad joke about Twitter that made Costas look like a clueless grandpa. He’s 64, his interview subjects are 22 and 19, so it’s best not to emphasize that gulf.
“Is there anything to talk about concerning the competition?” Costas said at one point.
Yes! Please, ask them!
The emphasis on Biles and Raisman as personalities instead of athletes was most problematic. There’s nothing wrong with a little fun — this is prime-time television, not a doctoral thesis on gymnastics — but the segment felt like biting into a cake that was all icing.
Raisman seemed to sense the awkwardness. After Costas compelled them to “throw” the broadcast into a commercial, she asked, “Was that your best interview ever, or what?”
UPSET: Was it really an upset, as NBC’s Chris Marlowe insisted, that three-time gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings and her beach volleyball partner April Ross were beaten by a higher-ranked duo from Brazil on the Brazilian’s home sand? NBC can’t be blamed for being upset, losing one of its bankable prime-time stars earlier than hoped.
TODAY’S TRAUTWIG: “We’re about to see uber gymnastics, and I don’t mean Simone Biles is taking a car somewhere,” said NBC’s Al Trautwig. “It’s just gymnastics at a high, high level.”
JUST ASKING: Judging by their facial expressions from the stands, do you think Raisman’s parents enjoyed their time in Rio de Janeiro?
SPORTSMANSHIP: Kudos to NBC and Tom Hammond for telling one of the best sportsmanship stories we’ve seen in a while, about New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino helping each other over the finish line in their 5,000-meter heat after they bumped into each other and tumbled onto the track.
A GAME!: With two minutes to go in the first half of Tuesday’s women’s basketball game between the United States and Japan, NBC’s Marc Zumoff and Ann Meyers Drysdale were juiced. They had a game! The U.S., which had won its first five games by an average of 45 points, was up by only two. Zumoff and Drysdale were excited by the “pesky” and “entertaining” Japanese players, who came after their better-known rivals relentlessly. “Japan is putting up a great fight,” Zumoff said. By the second half, the U.S. put the hammer down. It was 89-59 when NBC’s cameras caught the U.S. men’s team in the stands; they were all staring at their devices. The Americans won by 46.
QUOTE: “He just took a little run to warm up today.” — NBC’s Hammond on Usain Bolt, after he eased to the finish line in his 200-meter heat.
STREAM TIME: While NBC’s prime-time television ratings are down, fans are seeking out the Olympics on other devices. The network said Tuesday it had surpassed 2 billion minutes of live streamed action from the Rio de Janeiro Games. Not only does that comfortably surpass the 818 million streamed minutes for the London Games, it beats by 500 million the number for all previous Olympics combined. An estimated 24.3 million people watched Monday night’s prime-time telecast on NBC, the level rising by 5 percent to 25.5 million when streaming and cable coverage is added in. For the same Monday night in London four years ago, there were 26.6 million viewers. And the Olympics appear to be big in Utah this year. NBC said that for nine of the 11 prime-time nights of Olympics action, Salt Lake City was the market with the best ratings in the country.
VIRTUAL REALITY: NBC and Samsung have been touting their virtual-reality coverage, but the quality of the video has been such that Olympians look like video-game characters on Samsung’s Gear VR headset. Meanwhile, 360-degree still images from Getty Images haven’t gotten as much attention, but have been stunning. NBC’s VR video relies on cameras at fixed locations off to the sides of the fields of play. With no camera operator, there’s no control over the shots. Getty gave a 360-degree camera to each of its photographers, and they’ve been able to capture the flexibility and strength of Simone Biles on the vault and Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro diving into the crowd after winning his tennis gold medal. The images are available for free on the 360 Photos app on the Gear VR and Oculus Rift headsets.