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Announcers Go Over the Top

August 20, 2004|LARRY STEWART

In covering the Olympic Games, NBC has not faltered to the extent Paul Hamm did on the vault, nor has it been as flawless as Hamm on the high bar.

The dramatic stories have been there for NBC, particularly in gymnastics, where Hamm came back from 12th place to win the all-around gold Wednesday night.

It is also in gymnastics where NBC has lost a few points. The problem is with the announcers, and in gymnastics, the announcers are vital.

Remember Olga Korbut's performance on the uneven parallel bars in 1972 at Munich? Not many viewers would have known it was so spectacular if ABC's Gordon Maddux hadn't been there to explain it.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 21, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Sports TV -- It was reported in a Sports TV-Radio column Friday that a pay-per-view television event, "Battle of the Hockey Gladiators," would be shown tonight. The event recently was canceled because of what promoters said was "pressure being exerted by local law enforcement" in Winnipeg, Canada.

Maddux was also there to inform viewers about Nadia Comaneci's feats in 1976 and Mary Lou Retton's in 1984.

Maddux, a former Cal State L.A. gymnastics coach who has lived in Prescott, Ariz., the last 20 years, has been watching the gymnastics competition at Athens with a keen eye.

"I think the gymnasts have been tremendous," he said, "but I can't say the same for the announcers.

"The competition is obviously edited down because of time restraints before it is shown. With not much room for analysis, the announcers end up talking too much while the gymnasts are performing.

"Basically, there is too much chatter and not enough time."

The way it works at Athens, the announcers call the events live to a tape, then that tape is edited down as needed. There may be some voicing over, but the live calls are not changed.

So when Tim Daggett said, "That's it," after Hamm's fall, that really was it. He couldn't change his call to, "That's it, barring a miracle."

Daggett is the most technically sound of NBC's three gymnastics announcers, and the closest thing to a Gordon Maddux. But word economy is not one of Daggett's strong suits.

And he is working with two other talkative announcers.

Al Trautwig, there to call the event, should be yielding more to the expert analysts. But Trautwig seems to fancy himself both an expert and a wordsmith. He can barely contain himself as he waits to get in a clever saying.

"On a night he was attempting something glorious, that was about as inglorious as it gets," Trautwig said of Hamm's fall.

Another problem with Trautwig is that he is so overly dramatic it is hard to tell when the drama is real and when it is contrived.

"I agree with that," Maddux said.

And then there is Elfi Schlegel.

"She seems compelled to say something even if there is nothing to say," Maddux said.

If there was a gold medal for stating the obvious, Schlegel might be the favorite.

She informed viewers Wednesday night that there were "a lot of great all-around athletes here tonight," as if that wouldn't be the case at an Olympic final.

Her comment after Hamm's fall in the vault was, "I can't believe it!"

After Hamm's performance on the high bar, Schlegel said, "I am absolutely speechless."

Unfortunately, she wasn't.

What seems lost on all three announcers is that nothing builds drama like silence. Vin Scully is a master at building drama with silence.

A rule the NBC trio may want to remember is that silence is golden.

Fewer Complaints

Generally during an Olympics, complaints about the television coverage pour in from readers. They let it be known that they are agitated that certain sports get short shrift, that there are too many up-close-and-personal canned features, that the events are shown on a tape-delayed basis, that it's confusing what is live and what isn't, and on and on.

That hasn't been the case with these Games. There have been complaints, just not nearly as many as during past Olympics.

Many of the complaints about the Athens coverage have to do with the high-definition telecasts and the fact that they are being shown on a 24-hour delay.

Complaints about the prime-time coverage have been minimal, comparatively speaking.

NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said before the Games that viewer complaints from past Olympics had been taken into account in planning the network's approach to these Games.

That's why cable networks MSNBC, CNBC, USA and Bravo are there to offer more extensive coverage of sports such as boxing, basketball, soccer and softball. That's why there are fewer canned features. That's why the network was more forthcoming about the need for delayed coverage and has done a better job of spelling it all out.

The new approach, along with such technological advances as the graphics used on swimming, has apparently helped NBC put people in seats in front of U.S. television sets.

NBC's prime-time ratings are up 8% from Sydney four years ago. After six nights of the Athens Games, NBC was averaging a 15.7 national Nielsen rating, with a 27 share, compared to a 14.6/25 through six nights of the Sydney Games.

A total of 159 million people have watched at least a portion of the Olympics on one of NBC's family of seven networks. That represents 58% of the population. NBC's four English-language cable networks have drawn 38 million of those 159 million viewers.

Through six days at Sydney, NBC had drawn 136 million viewers.

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