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OLYMPICS '88: A PREVIEW : NBC Hoping to Tell Story, Not Become It, With Its TV Coverage

September 14, 1988|LARRY STEWART | Times Staff Writer

One of the major stories of this year's Winter Olympics at Calgary was the television coverage, or lack of it.

The number of commercials, the placement of them, delayed coverage in the West, and sloppy telecasts generated a lot of criticism.

NBC people gulped. This was ABC, which bills itself as the "network of the Olympics." What was NBC, which hadn't televised an Olympics since the Winter Games of 1972 and hadn't broadcast a Summer Olympics since 1964, in store for at Seoul?

One NBC executive said ABC's troubles in Calgary sent "a healthy dose of fear" throughout NBC's sports division.

More recently, Michael Weisman, NBC Sports' executive producer, before going to Seoul, said: "I could be a wise guy and say we won't miss any hockey goals. But I won't say that.

"Seriously, our aim is to be flexible, to adjust and follow the big stories. We will try to not overproduce and get in the way.

"We do not want NBC to be the story of these Games."

NBC will present 179 1/2 hours of Olympic coverage, with 80 hours of live prime-time coverage (4:30 to 9 p.m., Pacific time) and 30 hours of live late-night coverage (9:30 to 11:30).

NBC's coverage begins Thursday night at 9 with a two-hour preview. The opening ceremony Friday will be shown from 8 p.m. to midnight, a delay of three hours in the West. But other prime-time coverage will be live in both the East and West.

ABC's prime-time coverage from Calgary was shown on a three-hour delay in the West.

NBC's early morning coverage (6 to 9 weekdays) and afternoon coverage (2:30 to 3:30) will be delayed in both the East and West.

Seoul is 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles, but many events will be held in the morning and early afternoon to accommodate prime- time hours in the Eastern United States and early-evening hours in the West. Noon in Seoul is 7 p.m. in Los Angeles.

The U.S. network, in this case NBC, gets preferential treatment because of the rights fee it pays. NBC paid $300 million for the Seoul Games. The Soviet Union and 15 other Communist countries, collectively, paid only $3 million.

NBC, however, figures to make a profit. It will spend another $100 million on production, but will gross about $550 million from advertising.

NBC will have a crew of some 1,200 people in Seoul. Some of the key players:

THE EXECUTIVES

Michael Weisman, executive producer: He's in charge of the overall look of NBC's coverage. A one-time page in NBC's guest relation department, Weisman, in 1983, when he was only 33, was appointed executive producer of sports. Whereas Roone Arledge, who served as the executive producer during ABC's Olympics, is regarded as aloof, Weisman is just one of the guys. He is well liked among his co-workers and has a wry sense of humor.

"The Olympics is what made (ABC's) Roone Arledge a legend, a household name," Weisman said. "Now I get my shot. But Roone's name helped. Roone. It has such a ring too it. Maybe I should change my name to Rocky. Rocky Weisman. How does that sound?"

Art Watson, NBC Sports president: He negotiated the TV contract, and is the ultimate authority for decisions made within the sports department. He has been president since 1979. Watson, a quiet man, prefers to stay out of the limelight. Says Weisman: "Arthur insists on two things, honesty and integrity."

Michael Eskridge, executive vice president: Formerly the president of NBC Radio, Eskridge was hired in October, 1985, to provide administrative leadership and financial guidance for the Seoul Games. He has the reputation of a hard-liner. He wears a necklace with a tiny hatchet on it. He says his staff at NBC Radio gave it to him. Why the hatchet? "You figure it out," he says. What would his current staff give him? "The same thing," he says.

Weisman: "Working with Eskridge is like riding a roller coaster. He's an up-and-down guy." Eskridge will become president of NBC's new consumer news and business cable channel, CNBC, which is scheduled to go on the air Feb. 1. Asked, hypothetically, if he would like to do his current job again if NBC were to get the rights to the 1992 Summer Games. "Not for $5 million," he said.

Terry Ewert, coordinating producer: As with Eskridge, the Seoul Olympics has been Ewert's full-time job for more than two years. It has been decided he, not Weisman, will call the shots during the prime-time coverage, which isn't a bad idea. While Ewert has been immersed in the Olympics, Weisman has had other responsibilities. ABC got into trouble by bringing Arledge in cold to call the shots during the Calgary Games. NBC is not making the same mistake.

Peter Diamond, vice president, Olympic programs: Called a walking Olympic encyclopedia, he'll work alongside Ewert and Weisman in the main NBC studio in Seoul. He was hired away from ABC after the 1984 Los Angeles Games, and insiders said he was missed in Calgary. It has been said that, "You can't have an Olympics without Peter Diamond." He's also in charge of the research unit and the pre-taped Olympic profiles.

THE HOSTS

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