CLINE: Olympics best reality show on TV

Todd Cline

Todd Cline


Click HERE to check out the Daily Post's complete coverage of the 2012 Olympics, including Gwinnett athletes competing in the Summer Games.

Any doubt that the Olympics are a made-for-TV show disguised as sport should be erased by the criticism NBC is receiving for airing the top events on a tape-delay basis. Viewers are steamed (this one included) that races and competitions are shown hours after they were actually contested, causing, for instance, those interested to watch the 100-meter men's track finals on TV more than six hours after Usain Bolt actually won the race.

This is irritating when comparing the Olympics to a major sporting event like the Super Bowl. No one, not even NBC, would dare air the NFL's biggest game five hours after the Giants had already defeated the Patriots. The difference is the Super Bowl is a sporting event that makes for a high-rated (usually the highest) television program, whereas the brilliance of the TV industry is that it has turned Olympic sport into an amazing reality show.

Once you accept the Olympics as a TV program, the issue of tape delay goes away. After all, no one gets bent out of shape that "CSI: Miami" is taped months in advance. And while I admit the few nights I've been able to avoid social media and the Internet and be surprised by the results in London have been the most enjoyable, the other nights have provided riveting drama as well.

I knew that Gabby Douglas would be the all-around champion in women's gymnastics but enjoyed the coronation all the same. In fact, as dumb as it sounds, I was actually a little on edge waiting for the final scores to be posted, as if somehow maybe the Internet might have had it wrong (something that has never happened, obviously). And I knew that Team USA was going to win the final relay of the swimming competition, which only made me more interested in watching Michael Phelps grab gold for the last time.

In this Olympic mini-series, Phelps is definitely the leading man. And just as "Dallas" (new or old) doesn't work without J.R., Beijing and London don't work without Michael. While the writers may have shot J.R. once upon a time, they weren't dumb enough to kill him off, which is effectively what Phelps' retirement has done to NBC's show. That is a curveball the NBC brass will have to figure out, but judging by extensive interviews with him Monday night with Bob Costas and Tuesday morning on the "Today" show, they won't let the fact his career is over keep him from getting face time on their network.

My guess is you'll see Phelps in 2016 in Rio de Janerio, but instead of swimming in the pool he'll be sitting near it, commentating on the races. In fact, if NBC was smart, they'd figure out a way to get Phelps to the Winter Olympics as well. Maybe he could take Ryan Seacrest's spot on the announcing team. Or learn to luge. Whatever it takes for ratings.

Phelps and the aforementioned Bolt are breakout characters in this show called the Olympics, exceptions to the rule along with the men's basketball team, the gymnast of the moment and whichever Williams sister wins tennis gold. But the best example that the Olympics are indeed a TV show (and that the executives are well worth their bloated salaries) is that if you're really into the London Games, you have witnessed at least some of the following: synchronized diving, rowing, trampoline, badminton, water polo and that cycling deal where they barely roll around for two laps before a mad sprint to the finish.

Not that there's anything wrong with any of those sports (OK, the trampoline deal is ridiculous), it's just that you would never in a million years tune in to watch any of them if they weren't presented in the Olympic format. But because the producers are canny enough to provide gripping back stories served up with heaps of national pride, you (and I) become enthralled with things like Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston becoming the first Americans to win a synchronized diving medal. (OK, maybe that was just me.)

The fact that I watched them win that medal (it was silver) seems a little silly. Kind of like complaining that I had to watch it on tape delay.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.