The Agony and the Ecstasy of NBC's Olympics Coverage

The Vancouver Winter Olympics are providing plenty of compelling television.

And Bob Costas’ interviews with the athletes in those easy chairs in front of a roaring fire have made for some crackling moments. Evan Lysacek serenely and graciously responding to criticism from the losing camp (i.e. the Russian media and silver medalist Yegeni Plushenko) that Lysacek didn’t deserve the gold in men’s figure skating because he didn’t do “the quad.” Ditto Apolo Ohno on criticism from South Korean media and skaters. There was also a report about the baying for blood in Russia over the poor showing by Russian athletes in Vancouver. And Chris Collinsworth has become the Barbara Walters of NBC Sports, asking the athletes those prying personal questions about their deepest yearnings and most devastating moments. This is the kind of connective tissue we’ve come to expect from the veteran crew at NBC Olympics. (Of course, none of it makes suffering through incessant promos for Jerry Seinfeld’s The Marriage Ref any easier.)

But for true fans of the Games, it’s been a mixed bag. In the age of instant news alerts, it’s impossible to be surprised at any of NBC’s tape-delayed primetime winners. As a skiing fan, I’ve tried to avoid looking at my Blackberry on race days. (This is impossible if it is a work day, for obvious reasons.) But Sunday, the day of the men’s combined, I managed to stay in the dark until I made the grave error of watching ABC’s World News. Anchor Dan Harris did not even offer the obligatory “plug your ears if you don’t want to hear who won …” disclaimer before a picture of U.S. skier Bode Miller flashed on the screen.

Of course, I still watched the race. And NBC can certainly be excused for tape-delaying skiing, which must take place in the morning and afternoon when the skiers hurtling themselves down the mountain at 70-80 mph can actually see the course.

But NBC’s approach seems even more antiquated this time around. And yet, we’re still watching. The robust tune-in for the Vancouver Games is no doubt in part thanks the U.S.’s position as the top medal-winner so far. And perhaps it’s also the once every two-ish years sense of history, the incredible feats of athleticism, the figure-skating costumes that must be seen to be believed. Whatever it is, it can’t last forever. Someday soon (London 2012? Sochi 2014?), Olympics broadcasters will not be able to pretend that we’re still watching TV like it’s 1999.