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NBC Finally Gets Back on the Olympic Beat

August 21, 1988 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ The long wait is almost over at NBC.

Eight years ago, a U.S. boycott forced the network to cancel its coverage of the Moscow Olympics. Years of preparation and planning went down the drain, leaving the NBC crew as heartbroken as the American athletes.

Starting Sept. 15, the network gets another chance with its 19-day coverage of the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

NBC hopes the Olympic programming will boost ratings, profits and morale at the network. But after suffering a huge letdown in 1980, nobody is taking anything for granted, especially with the potential for student riots or violence by publicity-seeking terrorists.


″We’re keeping our fingers crossed,″ said Michael Weisman, executive producer at NBC Sports. ″We will all be tremendously relieved when the torch is lit.″

NBC hasn’t televised an Olympics since the 1972 Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan. Since then, ABC has done every Olympics except the boycotted Moscow Games.

ABC bills itself as the ″network of the Olympics.″ But Weisman and Co. want to show that NBC can also handle the toughest assignment in sports.

″My mandate is to shatter the mystique that only ABC can do the Olympics,″ he said. ″They’ve done a good job over the years, but I think we can do it too.″

In financial terms, NBC is already assured of topping ABC’s performance at the 1988 Winter Olympics.

ABC got caught in a bidding war for the Calgary rights, and ended up paying a record $309 million. Despite good ratings, the network lost an estimated $75 million.

NBC paid $300 million for the television rights in Seoul, even though the Summer Games are far more popular than the Winter Games. Network officials are projecting a profit, but they won’t say how much.

″We will definitely make money,″ said Mike Eskridge, the NBC vice president in charge of Olympic finances. ″It will be more than originally expected because our costs are lower than expected.″

NBC plans to telecast 179 1/2 hours from Seoul, roughly the same as ABC showed from Los Angeles. Seventy-five percent of the coverage will be live, including all prime-time and late-night shows.

Of course, prime-time in New York is lunch-time in Seoul the following day.

Because of the 14-hour difference between the cities, many of the glamour events will be held in the morning and early afternoon to accomodate American television viewers.

″It could be a shock to look out your window and see pitch darkness, then look at your television set and see athletes running live in broad daylight,″ Weisman said.

An even bigger shock may be the streamlined look of the telecasts.

Weisman is known for his innovations and experiments, including the silent Super Bowl minute, the ″10-minute ticker″ scoring updates and the announcerless game. But he is warning his troops not to get carried away with technical wizardry and gimmicks at the Olympics.

″There’s a temptation to overproduce when you’ve got an event as important as the Olympics,″ Weisman said. ″But we’re going to try to avoid it. The event is the story, not NBC.″

To cover the story, NBC will send more than 1,100 people to Seoul, including about 500 engineers, 70 cameramen, 60 directors and 60 producers.

The spotlight, however, will be on the 40 announcers and eight hosts who will become as familiar to American television viewers as the athletes.

Anchoring the nightly prime-time program will be Bryant Gumbel, co-host of the ″Today″ show and a former NBC sportscaster. The late-night programs will be hosted by Bob Costas, best known as a baseball announcer and host of NBC’s NFL studio show.

The other anchors are Dick Enberg, Jane Pauley, Jimmy Cefalo, Gayle Gardner, Ahmad Rashad and Maria Shriver.

ABC’s hosts at the Winter Olympics, particularly prime-time anchor Jim McKay and the late-night team of Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford, were widely criticized for doing too much cheerleading and not enough reporting.

Weisman said that won’t happen at Seoul.

″By and large, I think we have a more irreverent group (than ABC),″ he said. ″I don’t mean that as a criticism, either. It’s just that we have different personalities than they do.″

To ensure that NBC goes after breaking stories, Weisman has hired a number of print journalists to complement the announcing crew.

″They’re there to protect us,″ Weisman said. ″We don’t want to miss a big story and then read about it in the morning papers.″

Another thing Weisman doesn’t want to read is that NBC’s coverage is jingoistic. So NBC will offer ″The Journalists,″ a view of the Games through the eyes of foreign reporters.

″It’s so easy to get carried away with the USA, USA thing,″ Weisman said. ″The Olympics are an international competition and we want our coverage to reflect that.″

The Olympic telecasts are also an international effort.

Most of the pictures beamed back to the United States will come from the Korean Broadcasting System. NBC will supplement the coverage with its own cameras, but KBS will provide the world feed.

Korea didn’t get color television until 1980, so NBC is understandably nervous about depending on the host network for pictures.

″We’re not taking any chances,″ Weisman said. ″If we have to, we can cover every venue with our own equipment.″

End Adv for Release Aug. 13 and Thereafter