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Producers Seek to Close Games on Right Note After Tragedy

August 02, 1996|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the wake of spectacular reviews for the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Don Mischer felt as if he'd won a gold medal.

"Certainly, this is the biggest thing I have ever done in my career and will ever do in my career," Mischer, producer of the opening and closing ceremonies, said last week. "This has been put together by a team of creative people. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we have been thrilled to do it."

Then came the bombing last Saturday morning at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, which left two people dead and 111 injured. Mischer was still stunned this week.

"We were all very, very disappointed," he said. "You work so hard for so many years trying to create an Olympics that will strike the right tone and send the right message to the world. Always in the back of your mind, you are fearful of things like terrorism. When it happens, even though you know that it might happen, it's just devastating, and morale really took a blow on our staff and everyone else. But I must say, beginning [Sunday], we have kind of felt a new sense of resolve by fans and by the athletes especially to continue and to continue positively."

So work has proceeded on the closing festivities, which he said are intended to have more of a party atmosphere than the opening ceremony. But some changes may be in the works.

"Some way or another," Mischer said, "we have to deal in the closing [with the bombing]. We are now discussing among ourselves what alternatives we have and where it is most appropriate. I think the closing will probably go on pretty much as planned, but can we do things that will be lighthearted? Will it be appropriate? Can we do a big concert? Those questions are on our mind. Right now we are trying to choose the right course."

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Mischer, 56, the Emmy Award-winning producer of such TV programs as the 100th anniversary of Carnegie Hall, the Emmy Awards, the Tony Awards, Michael Jackson's Super Bowl XXVII halftime show and the Kennedy Center Honors, has been working on the Olympics ceremonies since late 1993.

"We have been doing other things [too]," Mischer said. "I have done a couple of Emmy Awards and I do the Kennedy Center Honors. I moved down to Atlanta on April 7 this year."

Before that, Mischer and his producing partner, David Goldberg, would spend one week out of every six in Atlanta.

Mischer was thrilled with the reception to the four-hour-plus opening ceremony July 19 at Olympic Stadium, which featured the parade of athletes, such performers as Gladys Knight and Jessye Norman, fireworks and an emotional lighting of the torch by 1960 Olympic gold medal winner Muhammad Ali.

"It's indescribable how much global attention is focused on the Olympic ceremonies," Mischer said, "especially on the opening. Expectations are exceedingly high, and with each subsequent ceremony expectations seem to get higher. So there is a lot of pressure. I directed the world television feed, as well as the show that was on the field, so we were very conscious that every image was going to every nation on Earth."

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Mischer stages shows not for the television cameras but for the audience in the particular venue.

"When you do that properly, you create an event," he said. "That event makes for better television and that is true of the Kennedy Center Honors as well as something like the Olympics. If you can create electricity and excitement that is overwhelming, you have created a terrific television event."

Looking at past Olympic ceremonies, Mischer discovered that "many times the audiences were very polite, but they never got excited. They never got on their feet. We tried very hard to create audience excitement here. I did it with heavy audience participation. You never know if it is going to work, but if it does work, it contributes to your television event."

Mischer was very effective in keeping Muhammad Ali's participation a secret.

"I personally walked him through what he was going to do the morning of July 11 at 2 a.m.," he said. "Before I did that, I released all the security guards because I knew if any of the security guards saw us up there that the word would start to spread. We walked up there with flashlights and he tried the steps and the ramp and I had him take the torch to make sure he was comfortable with that."

The closing ceremonies, Mischer said, are designed more for the athletes.

"The athletes have given us 16 days of great competition. In the opening, they watched most of the show on television at Braves Stadium and then they walked in. In the closing, they are seated there from the beginning. We are trying to design a show that they will enjoy. We are trying to get some things right in front of them and that they will get a kick out of."

Among the performers scheduled are Gloria Estefan, who will perform the Olympic song, "Reach," B.B. King, Little Richard, Tito Puente, Wynton Marsalis, Faith Hill and Sheila E.

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