The complaints about NBC’s coverage of the Olympics are legion. The network tape-delays the juicy stuff to maximize their primetime advertising dollars. They overexplain everything. They turn every athlete into a tragic backstory with a sad music montage. They ignore countries with names that don’t rhyme with “Shmamerica.” All of these complaints can be reduced to one main overriding beef: NBC’s coverage of the greatest sporting event in the world feels like it focuses on everything except sports. It’s an epic distraction disguised as all-encompassing coverage. And at the 2012 Olympics, this argument has been handily incarnated in one person: Ryan Seacrest, NBC’s special correspondent and emergent whipping boy for everything wrong and modern about modern media.
Last night, Seacrest popped up twice in NBC’s primetime coverage. In both instances, he was inconsequential at best. First, he interviewed Mama Phelps and her two daughters, an interview that would have been zeitgeisty back in 2008 but felt immediately out of date when Michael Phelps failed to place in his sole event yesterday. He reappeared later in the broadcast to play the role of Screensaver Maestro, taking viewers on a tour of the Twitter response to Friday’s Opening Ceremonies. He also played part of the U.S. swim team’s “Call Me Maybe” video. Now, the video was already two days old — eternity in internet time. You could argue that many people who watch NBC’s primetime Olympics coverage don’t pay close attention to internet memes. But that brings up the more disturbing question: Is Ryan Seacrest just at the Olympics to play a G-rated version of Daniel Tosh for the benefit of your parents?
The basic problem with Seacrest’s presence is simple: He is specifically covering the Olympics in a way that prevents him from actually covering the Olympics.* Or, as Bob Costas put it: “We interview these athletes in and around competition…you catch them in an entirely different environment. It’s fun to see them in their real lives.” Maybe I was imagining things, but when Papa Costas said that, you got a sense of barely repressed hostility. And why not? People complain about Costas, but the presence of Seacrest makes Costas look like A.J. Liebling by comparison.
It’s no secret that Seacrest has big ambitions for his future — whispers about his Today Show dreams circulated regularly this summer. So, in a sense, these Olympics could be seen as a dress rehearsal (if not an audition) for the next stage of his career. So, fellow viewers, how would you rate Seacrest in London so far? Vote in our poll below, and share your thoughtful thoughts in the comments!
*Believe me, I’m aware of the inherent irony in critiquing Seacrest for covering the non-athletic aspects of a sporting event. Yes, I’m kind of doing the same thing. But to be fair, I’m not doing that in the middle of a nationally-broadcast primetime sports showcase.
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