EXECUTIVE PRODUCER JIM BELL SETS STAGE FOR SUMMER GAMES by Ed Bark
Here come the Summer Olympics, all 5,535 hours of them (by NBC Universal's count), serving more platforms than the diving competitions.
Given the enormous technical challenges ahead — both on-screen and online — you'd like to think that Thursday's teleconference with Olympics executive producer Jim Bell will be remembered as only an irksome glitch and not a bad omen.
Bell and a companion NBC publicist got off to a solid start from London. Both could clearly be heard setting the stage, with Bell teasing Friday night's opening ceremonies by saying he'd seen the rehearsal and is aware of comparisons to the jaw-dropping Beijing curtain-raiser four summers ago.
London's rebuttal, from Olympic Stadium, is full of "amazing moments," he promised, "including one that I think will be one of the more astonishing and memorable in opening ceremony history."
Then came the Q&A, with the very busy Bell allotting just 20 minutes for this exercise. Long, long pause while questions supposedly were being queued up. Uh-oh, there's a "technical issue with the operator."
Another lengthy pause. "We are still here, so stand by, " said the NBC publicist. More silence, which most assuredly was not golden at this point. But finally it came to pass. And ironically, the first long-distance question concerned anchor Bob Costas' earlier determination to observe his own "moment of silence" in honor of the Israeli athletes who 40 years ago were taken hostage and killed during the 1972 games in Munich.
Costas, NBC's principal host of London's opening ceremonies, told The Hollywood Reporter last month that he was baffled by the International Olympics Committee's determination that opening night was not the proper venue "to remember such a tragic incident."
"No, I don't think he (Costas) put any added pressure on himself," Bell said Thursday. "If there's anyone who knows how to handle himself in that situation, have the right approach and tone, it's Bob."
The subject was revisited later in the Q&A, with Bell saying "We're still talking about that" in terms of whether Costas in fact will follow through on his earlier intentions. "You'll have to watch the coverage."
A worldwide audience of millions upon millions in fact will be doing just that Friday night, with NBC signing on at 7:30 p.m. ET in the U.S. It's one of the few Olympic events that will not be streamed live at earlier hours on NBCOlympics.com, the network says in a publicity release. (Note to readers: it was easy for me to sign up for all this live coverage. You'll need to first identify your cable or satellite provider and then supply your user name and password for that service. Sitting through some short commercials is also part of the bargain.)
Olympics coverage will continue through the Sunday, Aug. 12 closing ceremonies. The 2012 Summer Games won't quite be everywhere. But they will be on NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, the aforementioned NBCOlympics.com, two "specialty channels" and the Games' inaugural 3D platform. All in all, it's nearly 2,000 hours more coverage than the Beijing games got.
The so-called "first social Olympics" will also have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr pages. "I think the biggest surprise has probably been just the size and scope of coverage," Bell said. "It's just staggering when you break it down."
Still, he doesn't discount the importance of the NBC mothership's nightly prime-time packages.
"Yes, we're hugely hopeful that a lot of people will be gathered around the television set," he said. "It's one of the last great family-viewing television events on the planet."
On most nights, NBC will begin coverage at 8 p.m. ET, which will be midnight London time, Bell said. So there won't be any live competition coverage in prime-time, although Costas as usual will handle any "on the fly" breaking news from the Games.
This will be Bell's ninth Olympics behind the cameras, but his first as the overall executive producer. Former NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol previously held that title, but couldn't reach a new contract agreement with the network. However, he's a "consultant and an advisor," Bell said. "He's here and he's weighing in and we're thrilled to have him here."
Friday's opening ceremonies will include a performance by Paul McCartney. First Lady Michelle Obama leads the official U.S. delegation while Queen Elizabeth II will officially begin the Games before retiring to her Royal Box. And Bell vowed that all 204 Olympic teams will be seen at least fleetingly on camera. "We're going to get every single country on."
Given that he has a lot on his mind — Bell also is executive producer of NBC's Todayshow — the answers were short and to the point Thursday. Or terse after he endured a question from a twit who asked whether NBC had a plan to catch dignitaries unguarded in the way a "Kiss cam" captured an unprepared President Obama and his wife at a mid-July USA exhibition basketball game.
"Yes," Bell said sardonically. "I can tell you that Kiss cam is a big part of our Olympic coverage."
Not really. Let the games and the gamesmanship begin — and without any undue technical difficulties.
Since 2006, Ed Bark's local and national TV stories and observations have been showcased on his pioneering website www.unclebarky.com.
For 26 years before that, he was TV critic for the Dallas Morning News. He's a past president of the Television Critics Association, and for seven years served on the national Peabody Awards board.
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