The ratings for Friday’s opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics set a record for NBC, capturing a 37.3 Nielsen rating, and watched by an estimated 35 million Americans. Those are huge numbers, and in the words of some analysts, the numbers were “American Idol” level. And why wouldn’t they be? NBC’s oppressive hype virtually ensured that we would rush to our TVs and basically surrender our evenings to the massive spectacle, with all of those commercials and promos for the fall TV season (“Follow what happens to Jim and Pam on September 25!”). In fact, we were probably the only country in the world that did not watch the opening ceremony live.
NBC’s desire to aggressively package all the proceedings into a prime-time slot ensured that we would be (literally) a captive audience. If you were in Canada, however, you would have been awake at 4:30 am –as many did—to watch it all on CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Not the US. We had to deal with 13-hour “delay”.
And, yes, it was a spectacle of lights, fireworks, music and of course, the parade of nations. Everything was perfectly rehearsed and executed with perfect precision: this was China’s moment to shine. As everyone marched with their flags in front of the crowds and an estimated 80 world leaders (including three generations of Bushes), it was a bit hard not to get caught up in the emotion and thrill that an international event that this was. NBC’s commentary was a bit more restrained than last time in Athens since they jettisoned Katie Couric to CBS. This time the job was left to Today co-host Matt Lauer and NBC Sports mainstay/elfin Bob Costas. (Costas and Couric looked like two chipmunks before!)
Again, NBC tried to milk every emotion and maximize every bit of factoid that would make the spectacle more understandable (read: dumbed down) for the average American. The US would not be appearing until the latter part of the procession. Then we were told that this was not an alphabetical ordering, and some vague explanation about how it was determined by the length of the Chinese characters. We got a small graphic for each country –its population, how many athletes were there, and some choice shots (Hey! That’s Kobe! Look! It’s Roger Federer!) here and there. Amid the apparent looping of probably two types of music (Mexican mariachi-ballads and Scottish bagpipes) meant to showcase some kind of diversity, Lauer and Costas lobbed pithy descriptions of each country’s chances, a bon mot about the geography or political situation. Sometimes they would cut to a world leader who was there squeezing into his or her seat.
I wondered if all the chatter needed to even be there. I mean, couldn’t NBC just provide visuals on the screen? Or just have the camera provide the shots we need, both before and after the procession? Did Costas and Lauer really add much in terms of guidance or useful info? I question whether Lauer had to point out that Mali was the country where Madonna adopted a son this past year. Or that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi did not attend the ceremony because, at 71 years, he could not withstand the heat and humidity of Beijing and the ultra-incredible “birds-nest” (National) stadium.
But nothing in the commentary compared to their handling, on occasion, of the fashions that were on parade. The opening ceremonies at the Olympics, naturally, are also a window to how each country decides to dress itself and its vaunted athletes. From sportswear such as tracksuits and t-shirts to more elegant, though still casual, jackets and skirts, this was to be the ultimate catwalk beamed all around the world. You might say that it’s like watching the red carpet at the Oscars. Even “Project Runway” got into it last week. Before co-host Tim Gunn announced to the contestants the challenge –to create a US Olympic team female outfit—he said that designers such as Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren developed their own respective country’s outfits in years past. This year, of course, Lauren was the official outfitter of the American team.
Lauer has a bit of fashion flair (perhaps a holdover influence from his buddy Bryant Gumbel, who appears on camera in JM Westons sockless, as he did on “Regis and Kelly” last month) but we shouldn’t expect much as they dive into their fashion recaps –so why even try? So let’s briefly break this down:
- The Lithuanians need to rethink the shade of green they wear (resembles the color of snot)
- We really can’t compare indigenous wear to Western wear
- The Polish woman unluckily wore some tragically red floral prints on their skirts
- Certainly the Swiss could afford to do better than cargo pants
- The red leather sashes on the French women belonged in an S&M convention, not the stately Olympics, but the berets were a nice touch:
- The British team’s choice of a navy outfit with white jacket and matching nylon belt was outstanding
- The person who told the Spanish men to wear red shoes to match their red suits should be fired
- White appeared to be the clear favorite for color. Very appropriate, versatile and cool.
- I know what a beret is, but what do you call the “cap” that Americans Lebron James and Dwayne Wade were wearing, along with all the male athletes. Offsetting the blue and white Lauren outfits, they looked smart
- Memo to the Dutch team: I realize orange is your national color and your amazing soccer team has a great uniform, but this outfit of a grey suit with white piping, over a white shirt and orange necktie, just doesn’t work at all.