When I watch TV, I like to shop 'N' save. so let's compare the latest viewing bargains available from Barcelona: In one corner we have NBC's pay-per-view Olympics TripleCast, a.k.a. Oh My God, Honey, It's Equestrian Dressage and Synchronized Swimming Around the Clock; in the other corner we have NBC's see-for-free Summer Games network coverage, a.k.a. the Olympics SingleCast.
And the winner is...NBC's telecast of the 1964 Summer Olympics from Tokyo!
I was a big fan of Olympic TV coverage that year because NBC aired only 14 hours. Imagine that, only 14 hours. Heck, that's a slow afternoon for the TripleCast. Nowadays I think we get too much. NBC's prime-time coverage from Barcelona takes too long to unfold; NBC's perpetual TripleCast coverage just takes too long.
Here's a quick primer for those of you who don't have time to finish this column because there is so much Olympic TV yet to watch:
•The Olympics SingleCast. Total Hours Being Aired: 161. Cost to Viewer: free. Strengths: Bob Costas, neat music, nice coffee table in studio. Drawbacks: too many commercials; haphazard, stop-and-start presentation of events.
•The Olympics TripleCast. Total Hours Being Aired: 1,080. Cost to Viewer: $125. Strengths: no commercials, entire events shown start to finish. Drawbacks: no commercials, entire events shown start to finish.
Now, if we review these Games channel by channel, commercial by commercial and ceremony by ceremony (Ah, yes, the opening ceremonies: For a minute there, it looked like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on Halcion), I think we'll find that less is more, more is less and Charlie Jones is, more or less, Charlie Jones.
NBC's co-executive producer of these SingleCast Olympics, ABC alums Dick Ebersol and Terry O'Neil, are putting a Roone Arledge stamp on the coverage. Arledge's rule No. 1: Give the Games a storybook look. Arledge's rule No. 2: Play The Star-Spangled Banner every 10 minutes or so. Thus each night we get an all-American fairy tale filled with athletes overcoming incredible odds to reach their Olympic dream.
Costas, who stretches his smallish frame as well as any guy on TV, thankfully has restored the luster, lost by CBS's Tim McCarver-Paula Zahn Puppet Show during this year's Winter Games, to the anchor position. Unfortunately, Costas is joined by Dick Enberg and his overblown "Moments," which have all the rich tapestry of a beanbag chair. (Conversely, NBC's "Seinfeld Olympic Moments" have been the most brilliant TV of the summer.)
With Costas in command, NBC is giving us a live-on-tape presentation. Everything is shown as if it were happening at that moment. So John Tesh, at gymnastics, might say, "Here's Shannon Miller's floor exercise, as we recorded it a few moments ago." Yo, John, the whole production was recorded many, many moments ago. Like we didn't hear the results on the six o'clock news? Tesh always works on tape: That's how he did his Tour de France telecasts on CBS, that's how he does Entertainment Tonight, that's how he's doing Barcelona. Hey, I like the guy, but the only thing Tesh ever does live is cash nice paychecks.
The live-on-tape thing would be O.K., but you can't trust NBC with it. NBC likes to rearrange reality, to play games with time and truths, as it did when it recut tape to show gymnastic rivals competing back-to-back when in fact there were several competitors between them. If NBC Sports had covered the creation of the world, you might have discovered that on the seventh day God didn't rest.
But I'll say this: The Arledge boys do put on a pretty entertaining, let's-string-the-audience-along show.
As for the 88 folks nationwide—73 of whom live in Mission Viejo, Calif.—who ordered the TripleCast, I'm asking all of you to please seek counseling as soon as the Games end.
Every time I turn on the nonstop TripleCast, I swear I'm on SportsChannel West Virginia at 4 a.m. It features the worst group of announcers ever assembled on a non-TNT sports telecast. It's like being stuck in an elevator and you can't turn the Muzak off. It reduces the Olympics to background drone.
True story: I had three dreams simultaneously the other night about the TripleCast, and even after I woke up, the dreams didn't end.
Anyway, I'll take the SingleCast, with all its faults, over the TripleCast, with all its vaults. If NBC's regular coverage is, as the network likes to say, "plausibly live," then its TripleCast is plausibly DOA.