With enough pomp and circumstance to make Lady Gaga raise an eyebrow, the Winter Olympics have returned to ruin television for two weeks. Once an eminently watchable sporting event punctuated by the occasionally dramatic real-life stories of its competitors, the Olympics has devolved into a made-for-TV event that plays like a Lifetime movie.
Because actual sports fans only watch the Olympics sparingly and most don't watch the Winter-Olympics-only events like luge or bobsledding, NBC must find a way to reach non-sports fans. That means that the competition takes a backseat to the melodrama of the competitors.
Not content to merely let real-life drama happen when it happens, NBC feels the need
to shoehorn personality and back-story into every event. For NBC, every athlete offers a storyline whether or not they actually have a compelling history or are just some kid who managed to get incredibly good at something ridiculous.
Instead of sports laced with drama, we get 'The Real World: Vancouver.' Nobody ever
bothers to explain how the made up scoring works in figure skating (extra points if you're famous seems to be the most peculiar rule) but we do get to hear about every faux dramatic stop on the major competitors' road to the Olympics.
Admittedly, sometimes an athlete has a story that makes them sympathetic. I might
root for the Haitian bobsled team or get excited about a country that has no ice winning a medal in ice dancing, but mostly, I want the drama to come from the actual sport.
By building every event around the personalities and histories of the competitors we dilute the impact of the truly special stories. If NBC stopped trying to make every competitor a sports movie cliche (underdog, comeback, impossible odds, etc.) maybe we would become captivated by someone instead of bored by the whole lot.
Unfortunately (at least for NBC), for every figure skater whose cancer-stricken parents work nine jobs so she can skate we get a dozen rich kids whose folks shipped them off to private training facilities. Some athletes have incredible tales worthy of being made into movies where Dennis Quaid plays the coach who believes in them when nobody else will. Most don't and maybe the competition should sometimes speak for itself.
Whereas we once got Dan Jansen and his crushing failure to secure a medal for his five-hours-deceased sister followed by his ultimate redemption six years later, we now get downhill skiers who also manage to be good-looking. While we all remember the incredible triumph of the 1980 'Miracle On Ice' hockey team, nothing can make us deeply care about professionals barely interested in being there playing together after a few days of practice.
And, perhaps the most ridiculous pushed dramatic aspect of the Winter Olympics is
the feature story done every four years about how captivating curling is. We get it, Canadians love their ridiculous non-sport because fat guys can play and you can drink beer during the game as a player.
There's a weird giant puck with a handle, lots of bad mustaches and people sweeping
away with a broom.ˆ If this sport belongs in the Winter Olympics then Skee Ball
should be in the Summer Olympics and I'd watch that because, well, Americans would
Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. When he is not writing
Kline serves as general manager of Time Machine Hobby New England's largest hobby