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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

The Nothing-Beats-Crying Network

Behind the scenes: NBC looks for emotion as it tries to avoid cheerleading during a big night at the pool.

September 19, 2000|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — As 16-year-old Megan Quann ascended the podium Monday night to get the gold medal she'd just earned in the women's 100-meter breaststroke, could it get any better for

NBC?

For a network that prides itself on story-telling at the Olympic Games, this was some story. Here was a brash-talking, fresh-faced young American teenager who had said she would win, and did.

Now it was her moment. NBC's too. Really, could it get better? Yes, it could: "Come on, cry for us," Tom Roy, executive producer of NBC Sports, hollered at the bank of monitors in the production truck

just outside the Sydney International Aquatic

Center.

Quann stepped onto the podium, received her medal and the "Star-Spangled Banner" started to play. No tears. The anthem played all the way through. No tears. "Arrgh," Roy said, turning to leave the truck. "Swimmers are too tough to cry."

On a memorable night in Olympic swimming history--the night Quann backed up her boast, a nice young man from Studio City by way of Ukraine named Lenny Krayzelburg was a winner but Australian sensation Ian Thorpe came in second--NBC granted The Times exclusive access to its production of the event.

The races took place between 7 and 9 p.m. Monday in Sydney--meaning between 1 and 3 a.m. Monday in Los Angeles. They were aired in prime time Monday night in L.A.

The ground rules for this story, agreed on in advance, were simple. The Times was granted unrestricted, uncensored access to the announcers and crew.

This is what happened behind the scenes:

Prelude

It's 25 minutes to showtime. The NBC chow tent, one of a bank of trucks and tents parked just outside the enormous swimming arena, is dishing up garlic beef, eggplant, fries, onion rings, salad, fruit, cheesecake and more.

Many of those on hand are downing a last few gulps of coffee. From Starbucks. NBC--apparently unwilling to gamble on Australian java--shipped to Australia 16,000 pounds of Starbucks coffee, enough for 320,000 cups.

"Kick ass tonight, my man," Ed Feibischoff, who produces swimming and diving for the network, says to Rowdy Gaines, who won three swimming gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and now serves as NBC's swimming analyst.

Feibischoff and Gaines make fists and touch knuckles. Gaines, wearing a red shirt with the NBC logo in front, turns to sprint up a dirt path to the arena.

Feibischoff, a muscled 43-year-old from New York, is one of NBC's most experienced producers. He did last year's NBA finals. This is his fourth Olympics.

Tonight he's set to work with director Andy Rosenberg, also one of NBC's best. Rosenberg, 50, who sports big glasses and a bald head, is decisive and quick. At the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, he made the decision to go live to a moving trackside camera to follow sprinter Michael Johnson around the homestretch of his record-breaking 200-meter sprint--producing perhaps the lasting video image of those Olympics.

At their disposal will be 30 cameras, 16 tape machines for replays and two editors editing tape around the clock.

Though the action--like all of the Games on NBC--will be shown in the States on tape-delay, in Sydney the entire team does the job as if the broadcast was live.

In the arena, Dan Hicks, the lead commentator, and Gaines will call the races as they happen. In the production truck, Rosenberg will bark out the various camera shots he wants as the swimmers churn down the pool. Feibischoff will sit next to Rosenberg in the truck, talking with the announcers; after the races are done, it will be his job--overnight in Australia--to cut and splice the action with pre-produced features to create the familiar NBC package.

Features on Quann and Krayzelburg were completed weeks before. NBC also has on hand a quickie recap of the two gold medals Thorpe won Saturday night.

Hicks walks into the tent. "Welcome," he says in a booming voice, "to the night of the Thorpedo!"

Thorpe

Headphones on, Hicks and Gaines are perched near the top of the press box, looking down on the finish line and, on a desk directly in front of them, at four TV monitors.

It's so loud you can't hear the person next to you.

The two announcers are flanked by aides. In back, standing on a platform, are two U.S. swimming officials, Jim Wood and Jonty Skinner. They're there to tape the races on their own camcorders. Because of their connections, however, they sometimes help the NBC crew with logistical or technical questions; in return, the two officials get a plank of wood to stand on.

Thorpe's race, the 200-meter freestyle, is second on the agenda. First is the women's 100-meter backstroke. American B.J. Bedford finishes sixth. She was in the race through 75 meters, Gaines tells his audience, but simply "did not have enough to come home."

Thorpe appears to thunderous noise. Gaines is working from a printed cheat sheet and from his own notes, scribbled in black ink on a yellow legal pad. One reads: "The concern for Thorpe should be not to let V. get too far ahead the 1st 100."

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