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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | LARRY STEWART / ON TELEVISION

It's a Solid Effort Except for Breaks

July 21, 1996|LARRY STEWART

When the lights went out in Georgia, the Dream Team was about to wake up.

The U.S. men were trailing Argentina, 15-14, at the time of a power failure at the Georgia Dome Saturday night. But anyone who knows anything about basketball knew it would soon be lights out for Argentina.

Didn't quite turn out that way, at least not until the second half, but the U.S. team did put together a 15-5 run after the lights came back to make it 29-19.

Problem was, viewers missed the run. No big deal, though.

On the plus side, the power failure at the Georgia Dome gave NBC a chance to show the U.S. women's volleyball team wrapping up its straight-set victory over the Ukraine. It also gave volleyball announcers Chris Marlowe and Paul Sunderland, both Southern Californians, a little more air time.

But even better than that, at least for soccer fans, was that their sport got a little air time. Yes, NBC actually showed a minute or so of highlights of Argentina's 3-1 victory before more than 80,000 in Birmingham, Ala.

See, soccer fans, NBC isn't going to totally ignore you.

By the time NBC was done with its token tribute to soccer, the lights at the Georgia Dome were just about back all the way. But wait! First, it was time for one of those delightful local news breaks.

Right in the middle of the Olympics, we simply had to know about actor Robert Downey Jr.'s latest brush with the law. And of course we got a fascinating report from Paul Moyer in Atlanta.

Moyer breathlessly informed, "The Games are here, the people are here and so is the rain; we'll have a complete look at Day 1 [of the competition] at the Olympic Games."

Wow, what a scoop!--and he also let us know that, coming up later was a feature on grass.

It was only the first day of competition, and already these news breaks were driving us nuts.

Channel 4 and its NBC sister stations across the country insist on these for two reasons: One, news breaks make money, and, two, they're viewed as a way to promote local news teams. That's why Channel 4 sent its own delegation to Atlanta.

Viewers were finally returned to the basketball game, but not for long. After the score went to 38-28, NBC cut away again.

Bob Costas informed viewers of the network's philosophy regarding the Dream Team, that no game except maybe the gold-medal game would be shown in its entirety.

This seemed like good news. Who wants to watch routs, anyway?

NBC, during a feature piece Saturday afternoon, appointed Charles Barkley the team leader. Great, huh? People who know him say deep down Barkley is a good guy, but to the rest of the world he epitomizes the ugly American.

Overall, it was a good one for NBC. The features were good, and the announcing was good. Swimming commentator Summer Sanders, only 23, could turn out to be one of the announcing stars of these Games.

The announcers may be a little to wrapped up in the Olympics. Just before afternoon host Greg Gumbel signed off at 3 p.m., he reported that Wayne Gretzky had signed with the New York Rangers, and this is how he described Gretzky: "One of the great athletes never to compete in an Olympic Games." Yes, there are things going on in the world besides the Olympics. And unfortunately, Channel 4 is going to tell us those things whether we want to know them or not.

Why is anyone besides Fred Roggin in Atlanta, anyway? It seems such a waste.

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