The XXX Olympiad, also known as NBC’s Summer Televisiad, is now halfway to its Aug. 12 conclusion. Apart from the athletes, who and what are the winners and losers?
Winner: director Danny Boyle
I wasn’t wild about his attempt to wed British pop whimsy to stadium-sized spectacle in the grand opening night – the only resonant image for me was that giant sleeping baby – but millions certainly loved it, and the ratings were the best ever for the ceremony. If it inspires bigger artistic risks in future Olympics openings, it will have been worth it. The next time a U.S. city plays host, someone please recruit Quentin Tarantino.
Loser: Ryan Seacrest
Viewers are used to the fact that the American Idol host has the determination of a gold medalist to build and burnish his career. So why was his presence in NBC’s coverage a faint but distinct irritant? His interviews were exactly what you expect from Seacrest, who like his role model Dick Clark is scrupulously inoffensive. Maybe it’s that an interview with Michael Phelps shouldn’t feel tonally identical to one with Jennifer Lopez.
Winner: The Royal Family
The photogenic appeal of the young generation – Prince William, his wife Kate and his brother Harry – was put to full promotional use at a number of events, and there was the queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, on the equestrian team. The Queen herself proved to be a good sport, participating in a filmed gag with 007 Daniel Craig for the opening night. (Who knows? Maybe a succession of Bonds – Sean Connery, even George Lazenby – have floated through her daydreams over the years.) Well done!
Eight women from China, South Korea and Indonesia were sent home after they deliberately tried to lose as a positioning strategy for later matches. The footage of their blatantly lackadaisical performances, with hearty boos from the bleachers, is the only Olympics event I’ve seen that looks as if it were shot for a Christopher Guest comedy. China took home all the gold medals, anyway.
On camera the event boils down to … 1) The archer poised to let the arrow fly, 2) The arrow lightly thwumping into the target and 3) a surprising number of oohs and ahs from viewers – the sport popped as the summer’s breakthrough in cable ratings. The going theory: Thank the phenomenally popular Hunger Games. U.S. archer Khatuna Lorig, the five-time Olympian who trained actress Jennifer Lawrence for the movie, competed in London but failed to score a medal. The trend should hearten the CW, which will be introducing an archer superhero with this fall’s Arrow.
Under the hashtag #NBCfail, the social network produced an army of 140-character assassins infuriated by the network’s prime-time delay of the games – what they consider an imperious disregard for the realities of instant news dissemination in the Internet Age. (NBC was also criticized for such infelicities as editing out a key stumble by Russian gymnast Ksenia Afanasyeva.) I think it’s exciting to see Twitter flexing its muscle – and having a lot of rambunctious fun doing it – but the fact remains that NBC’s ratings were through the roof. A reminder that, although the dinosaurs died out, while they lived they ate whatever, whenever and wherever they liked.