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Turn On Olympics, See the Mighty Hype Machine in Action

February 18, 1988

The following letter was submitted by reader Thomas O. Wick of Valencia:

The Winter Olympics are finally here. Ninety-plus hours of ABC network programming begin to unfold. The miracle of modern technology will bring us "live coverage" of the key events. Our ice hockey team, talented but inexperienced--how will it fare in world-class competition? Tonight we'll see the beginning of the answer.

I turn on the TV and settle into my easy chair, wrapped in the quilted robe, earmuffs on, a cup of hot, spicy glug in hand, ready for the thrill of Olympic competition. What do I get? A rare close-up view of the Mighty Madison Avenue Hype Machine, generating megatons of polished power. It's awesome!

The first 20 minutes of the game are terrific. Our kids are skating brilliantly; they score three goals with moves we haven't seen since Michael Jordan last played the Forum. (Never mind that one or two came during commercial breaks. We understand that they don't have an official's timeout in hockey, and ABC has to pay the bills.)

Then ABC decides that the game's trend has been established. ("Ladies and gentlemen, as the polls open in New Hampshire, the computers have declared Mike Dukakis the winner . . . ") Hey, we've got all those hockey fans glued to their TV sets--let's crank up the Mighty Hype Machine!

To the Olympic Plaza. The Olympic torch is burning. A few thousand people are standing around exhaling clouds of steam and shivering. Nothing much is happening.

Jim says: "This whole thing has been a moving experience, Jack, wouldn't you say?"

"Very moving, Jim."

"Folks, just in case it's not coming across on your TV sets, take our word for it. This is very moving.

"Oh yes, the U.S. hockey team has scored again. The score is now 4-0."

Cut to the ice rink, where skaters are working out in their warmup sweats. "Dick, what are your feelings about these last warmups before tomorrow's competition?"

"They're pretty important, Jim. And from where I'm standing, it looks like these skaters are getting good and warm."

Close-up of a slender, long-legged girl on skates, with a finely chiseled face and a brilliant smile. Somewhere in the bowels of Master Control, someone throws another switch. The Mighty Hype Machine is now in high gear.

The sound of violins rises softly in the background. "Little Katya." Jim croons.

Oh no, they wouldn't. The kid hasn't done anything yet. She's just warming up! But here it comes. Film of Olga. Film of Nadia. The violins swell. Jim's voice breaks. In Master Control, a producer and an account executive are embracing joyfully. "Look at her," the producer cries. "That's not just a skater--that's gross rating points!"

Jim: "The U.S. hockey team just scored another goal. Now for a commercial break."

Music. "The Olympic Spirit: It makes us feel good . . . " Cuts of actors playing athletes sweating and striving. "This is a salute to the Olympic Spirit." Sorry, I guess I got confused. I thought it was a coffee commercial.

Back to the Olympic Plaza. The World Chorus, a group of nice-looking kids, sings a nice song. "Jack, was it as moving for you as it was for me?"

"Oh, hell yes, Jim. Really moving."

"By the way, the hockey team has scored again."

Another commercial. What's this--no sweaty actors, no dancing packages wrapped in Olympic flags? Valvoline spends 30 seconds telling us how good their oil is. Where did that come from? What a relief!

"Now to Becky at the Olympic Plaza. What are you doing, Becky?"

"Eating bratwurst, Jim."

"How is it, Becky?"

"Moving."

Jim: "Later on we'll show you a portion of the Opening Ceremony that took place earlier in the day. Talk about moving!"

OK, that's enough. Tomorrow comes the morning paper. A cup of coffee and the Sports Section. No smarmy tributes to "Little Katya." No Olga, no Nadia, no violins; just news and focused commentary. I'll even find out what happened in the hockey game!

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