Tomorrow Will Be Televised: Post-Olympic Observations From the Passing Parade

Bob Costas

Bob Costas

***There’s considerable furor at the people with oversight of this fall’s Presidential Debates over the absence of moderators of color. Various diversity-minded organizations from the NAACP to Univision spearhead the furor-raising – and they have a good point. Given we’re on the road to a multicultural majority in this nation and the fact that we’re close to, if not already at, 40 percent of the U.S. population being a population of color, the debates should have someone of color in the moderator’s seat. There’s a simple solution: have co-moderators, and have one or two of them be journalists of color. There’s no rule in the handbook of running these debates, as far as this observer can see, to have only one moderator per debate, and no reason for concluding that the moderators selected – PBS Newshour co-anchor Jim Lehrer, Face The Nation host Bob Schiffer and CNN anchorperson/correspondent Candy Crowley (the first female moderator of these debates in two decades) – would be uncomfortable working alongside someone else. Besides, and this is aimed at the debate organizers, don’t you want the largest possible audience to witness your undertaking? Allow co-moderators and you’ll be in great position to attract that multitude. Go ahead, make a co-moderator of color’s day.

***Keep a watch on how Comcast does with its national rollout of Skype, the video chat feature now available in 10 cities from Boston to Atlanta. Extend the watch to how soon other cable operators, as well as DirecTV and Dish, follow Comcast’s lead. If successful, video chat could turn into one of the most important services in the history of this medium, bringing an unusual personal (as well as interactive) dimension to viewers. Just consider the possibilities that can be realized from video chat, such as telemedicine, one-to-one education, life coaching and even advice and arrangements about travel/entertainment/leisure activities.

***You’ve heard and seen plenty of how successful NBC and its family of channels were with the Summer Olympics from London earlier this month. Thirty-one million people on average watched each night on NBC, plus record daytime/late-night/weekend ratings on all NBC Universal-owned participating networks. What you’ve heard zero about in aftermath (as of this writing) is a history-making aspect of these Olympics that turned up a dud for U.S. viewers. These were the first Olympic Games offered in 3D on a separate channel, with more than 200 hours of event coverage offered. Did you know that? I doubt you didn’t, because no one involved – NBC, sponsor Panasonic and the cable and satellite operators carrying the coverage – made a substantial effort to showcase its availability. No promos, no press coverage beyond a paragraph buried inside a general release on overall Olympics coverage, no public events, no on-air appeals… just silence at every level. What’s more, the coverage in 3D was carried on a next-day basis, not live as has been the case up to now, whether with ESPN on World Cup soccer matches or the Bowl Championship Series finale, or CBS with The Masters golf and U.S. Open tennis. This opportunity to give 3D some public life at a time when this emerging medium is submerging, thanks partly to a content/distribution, chicken-and-egg-type standoff (distributors want original content to make 3D worthwhile, while content players say they can’t go forward without widespread distribution that covers their pricetag), was D.O.A. from the starting block. What a shame.

***Give NBC plaudits for its Olympics production. Top-notch hosts gave gold medal work, from Bob Costas to Al Michaels, Dan Patrick, Mary Carillo and colleagues. Great play-by-play calls accompanied by solid camerawork and graphics, over a wide variety of sports. That goes for Telemundo’s Spanish-language coverage team as well, led by Andres Cantor (the best soccer play-by-play person in any idiom), Jesse Losada (the Bob Costas of Latino TV) and newcomer Monica Leguira. If you had HDTV, the London action and scenery were spectacular day after day.

***Give NBC a gold medal kick in the rear for its handling of the closing ceremonies. For the second Olympics in a row (Vancouver two years ago being the other), NBC divided the ceremonies into two parts. Just before 11 p.m. Eastern time, invited viewers to return around midnight for the second part, following the commercial-free pilot of Animal Practice and local news. If NBC had used all four primetime hours (7-11 p.m.) for the ceremony, it would have been carried in total with no need to excise specific musical numbers along the way. Instead, on late notice, NBC ran a 90-minute London Gold special that easily could have waited until the next night, forcing the call to multi-part the ceremony and take out the scissors. Also, unlike the rest of the coverage, the computer graphics people appeared semi-asleep at the wheel. Many performers, including all involved in the section in honor of Rio’s 2016 games, were unidentified by graphics, leaving us to wonder who was entertaining us. All told, NBC’s actions during the closing ceremonies left a bad taste in many a mouth. Cut this practice out, starting with Sochi in 2014.

***You can’t go a day without Web sites like Deadline Hollywood Daily and The Wrap reporting an effort by a leading movie producer, writer or director to enter the TV series world. Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson made his scripted TV move in the 1990s, partnering with producer/writer Tom Fontana on Homicide: Life On The Streets. The pair recently reunited for Copper, launching BBC America into the original drama series world this month. Levinson isn’t surprised by this wave of decisions. Levinson knows most movies target Millennials and depend on action, special effects or hip, gross comedy. “If you want to get out of the box,” he told me at Copper’s premiere screening inside the Museum of Modern Art in New York, “you have to do TV. It’s where the greatest, substantial stories are now. We’re at the point where TV is pioneering a radically different form of entertainment.” Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to elaborate that point, as the screening was about to begin. I sure would appreciate the opportunity to bring it up another time, and I trust you agree.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

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Simon Applebaum

Simon Applebaum hosts and produces Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the radio program all about TV. The program runs live Mondays and Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific on BlogTalk Radio (www.blogtalkradio.com), with replays at www.blogtalkradio.com/televised.

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