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Despite Flaws, a Fair Performance

July 22, 1996|LARRY STEWART

NBC hasn't exactly fallen off the balance beam, but there have been some flaws in its Olympic routine.

High points Sunday night included the work of gymnastics announcers John Tesh, Elfi Schlegel and former UCLA gymnast Tim Daggett. They did almost as well as the U.S. women.

They tell you what you need to know without going on and on. They give the telecast room to breathe by occasionally simply letting the pictures tell the story.

Swimming announcers Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines and Summer Sanders should take note. There is rarely a pause in their chatter, and at times they get too excited. Sometimes they don't inform viewers exactly who's racing, even with that arrow they have at their disposal.

But generally they're not too bad.

Where NBC took the biggest fall Sunday night was in cycling.

NBC opened its prime-time block with a taped piece on women's road racing. It was totally confusing, mainly because it was overproduced and overwritten.

Narrator Al Trautwig went overboard with the dramatics, while forgetting about basic reporting. He needs to keep things simple.

Early in the piece, viewers were left to wonder if they were watching a feature piece or a report of an event. Turned out it was a report poorly disguised as a feature. It was hard to tell where the cycling footage being shown came from.

But maybe the low point was Trautwig's attack on French rider Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli, the eventual winner. Here was someone 99% of the U.S. audience had never heard of, and Trautwig was treating her as if she were Tonya Harding. He even compared her to the notorious Ty Cobb.

"Gee," said Bob Costas at the end of the piece spread over the first hour, "from that report it appears it was the gold medal or nothing; Miss Congeniality is out of the question."

Things got better as the night progressed. Swimming offered some exciting moments, and the camera work was about as good as one could expect for a sport that takes place in water.

Then came the women's gymnastics compulsories. It's pretty safe to say the U.S. women gymnasts will be among the brightest stars of these Games.

One intrusion, though, was a feature on Dominique Moceanu inserted as she was getting ready to compete on the uneven bars.

NBC went to the feature so abruptly, viewers might have thought at first that they were watching another commercial.

Nevertheless, it was another well-produced profile, focusing on how Moceanu, 14, has battled back in six weeks from a stress fracture in her right shin.

An even better feature was one on Kim Zmeskal, who unfortunately is best remembered for falling off the balance beam at Barcelona.

It was particularly poignant when a few minutes later, U.S. gymnast Jaycie Phelps fell off the beam and NBC cameras caught Zmeskal's reaction.

Topping that reaction shot, however, was one of Bela Karolyi during Moceanu's floor exercise. Moceanu could be seen on a TV monitor over Karolyi's shoulder.

The announcers didn't get quite as excited when other gymnasts were competing, but that was barely detectable.

No, it wasn't a perfect night for NBC, no 10's, but the network did nail its fair share.

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