Top 10 NBC Olympics Fails

A promo for NBC's "Animal Practice," featuring Crystal the monkey performing gymnastics, had aired right after a segment indicating Gabby Douglas was the first African-American to win a gold medal in gymnastics. Where did this unfortunate moment rank in our top 10 NBC Olympics fails list? Read on and find out.

It’s no secret that NBC’s presentation of the London 2012 Olympics, of which NBC Universal paid $1.2 billion for the American television rights, has not necessarily been foolproof.

The alarming thing is that there have been a number of things that have gone wrong during NBC’s Olympics coverage – enough of them, in fact, to compile a “top ten” list of them. Who knew that when they edited out an American Olympian’s utterance of “Baba Booey” during the opening ceremonies that NBC was just getting warmed up on the “fail” front?

And so, in the spirit of ESPN (albeit with nary a reference to a certain New York Jets quarterback), on behalf of SportsRantz, I present to you: The Top 10 NBC Fails of the 2012 Olympic Games.

10. “Was that you, Evander? We didn’t recognize you without bitten ears!” On the morning on Monday, July 30, NBC’s “Today” show aired a package gauging reactions from Buckingham Palace tourists on Queen Elizabeth II’s cameo during the opening ceremony. One of those tourists turned out to be former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. Not only was his response pared down to a single word and strewn with takes from other tourists, but NBC actually treated “The Real Deal” as if he was really just another tourist in London. Granted, it has been fifteen years since Mike Tyson chomped off both of his ears, so I guess all of that reconstructive surgery worked. But clearly, Holyfield himself saw the “Today” piece and apparently heard from Twitter followers befuddled that NBC didn’t respect his boxing royalty when rounding up his comments on Her Royal Highness at Wembley Stadium the other night. “The Today Show did interview me yesterday, and [you’re] right, they didn’t mention who I was,” Holyfield tweeted within an hour of the segment airing. And it would not be the only boxing-related blow NBC would take in London. Nor, of course, would it be the only NBC Olympics moment that would be far from, as Holyfield would say, “wonderful.”

9. “Cry, Jordyn, you’re on candid camera.” On Sunday, July 29, three American gymnasts in Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber all had an outstanding preliminary round prior to a women’s individual all-around competition. The caveat: each country could only send a maximum of two competitors to the next round. Which meant one Olympic dream came to an untimely end for Wieber, the 17-year-old Michigan native. So much so that she started crying. Afterward, when Andrea Joyce conducted an interview with Raisman and Douglas on their moving on in the competition, Wieber can conspicuously be seen in the shot emitting teenage tears. And NBC kept cutting to close-ups of a sobbing Wieber, perhaps in anticipation of an interview of her own. “It’s still not time to take to Jordyn,” remarked a quick-thinking NBC announcer. Yet it is time to continuously show shot after shot of the weeping Wieber – maybe in lieu of an actual interview. A sadistic translation of the idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

8. “… and I am an immaterial girl.” Wieber, meanwhile, would be able to participate in the women’s team all-around on Tuesday, July 31, where Ksenia Afanasyeva, representing the Russian team, experienced a horrific moment when she fell flat on her face during a floor exercise. And while NBC’s online feed captured it perfectly, her great fall was edited out of the primetime broadcast on NBC television that night. A couple of days later, NBC Sports Group boss Mark Lazarus explained that Afanasyeva’s aberration was left on the cutting room floor “in the interest of time,” because a producer decided it was “immaterial to the outcome.” Then, in perhaps a moment of unabashed jingoism, Lazarus proclaimed: “All the drama was about the U.S. performance, not about what the Russian team had or had not accomplished.” The end result of this competition ultimately saw Team USA bring home the gold – with Russia coming in second with a differential of about seven points. I wonder if Lazarus ever decided to turn off the TV in the middle of the fourth quarter of a “Sunday Night Football” game with the home team up by a touchdown, because anything the road team does would be “immaterial to the outcome” of the game. (As far as “the interest of time” is concerned, Rich Sandomir argues that there was indeed enough time to show Afanasyeva’s mishap – in all of its immaterialness.)

7. “Gonna have ya naked by the end of this slough.” NBC aired a live women’s water polo match on Wednesday, August 1 (considering it was live, this didn’t air in primetime) between USA and Spain. At one point, an NBC camera positioned inside the pool (“N-B-Cee It – Underwater!”) captured an inopportune swimsuit malfunction when America’s Kamie Craig tugged at an opponent’s attire, prompting the Spanish athlete to let one fly, so to speak. And there would be two more instances of water polo whopper exposure: during a match between Australia and China on August 5 (on NBC Sports Network) and once again on August 7, in a contest between USA and Australia – I guess this could be considered the “mammo-final.” Of course, on live television, no one knows what might unfold – as everyone learned during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, produced by MTV, in which Justin Timberlake took the lyric of his hit “Rock Your Body” – “gonna have ya naked by the end of this song” – to new heights, thanks largely to a malfunction-prone wardrobe Janet Jackson was sporting in Houston that night. Incidentally, earlier this year, CBS, which aired the Big Game that year (and, go figure, is a corporate cousin of MTV), was found not liable to pay a fine upward of a half-million dollars as a result of Jackson’s pec-plagued performance. So while NBC might not be tried over this trio of tittilage, you’d have to think NBC was asking for trouble just for executing the concept of an underwater camera in play during these matches with these crazy water polo players. It’s like I missed the press release from NBC announcing they hired Joe Francis to oversee that facet of their Olympics coverage.

6. “The 7/7 Solution.” As part of the opening ceremony on Friday, July 27, among the many very British things referenced (and for the record, I’m still ticked that The Young Ones didn’t get an invite) was the very violent terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005 – which many dub the “7/7 attacks”. However, the tribute to the four dozen victims of the attacks was snuffed by NBC in order to show a pre-recorded interview with American Olympian Michael Phelps, conducted by Ryan Seacrest. Or, as Mark Lazarus would tell you, the 7/7 tribute would be “immaterial” to NBC’s presentation of the opening ceremony in the United States. I don’t know, but when the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington become known as the “9/11 attacks” – you know what, never mind. And for the record, during the same broadcast, Bob Costas, as advertised, jibed the IOC for not including a tribute to the slain Israeli athletes in Munich, site of the XX Olympiad, forty years ago.

5. “Debbie Does Derbyshire.” Granted, this is not something that aired on television, but since it falls under NBC’s Olympics coverage umbrella, it deserves a spot on this “fails” countdown. On Thursday, August 9, NBC posted a video montage of female athletes titled “Bodies In Motion” – only the footage was mostly in slow-motion, and the music sounded like something you might hear on one of those “Skinemax After Dark” programs. Anyway, especially given the apparent ribald climate that NBC has seen in this year’s Games (see No. 7 on this list), it was a bad idea from the first spike – and NBC realized that only upon receiving a heap of complaints about the porn prototype, and pulled the video off its website within hours. More details and thoughts on this in my post from Friday, here.

4. “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you! Oh, wait…” By the end of the London Olympics, 17-year-old Missy Franklin would rack up enough gold medals to make child actress Missy Gold even more obscure than she is now. As the California-born, Colorado-raised swimmer earned the first of her four gold medals on Monday, July 30, in the 100-meter backstroke competition, NBC, the American rightsholder of the Olympic games, which had already planned to show this event in primetime, was ecstatic – ecstatic enough that they decided to run an interview with Franklin on the next morning’s “Today” show. Alas, NBC could barely curb their enthusiasm, and a promo for the next day’s “Today” – in which not only did the announcer refer to Franklin winning her “first gold medal”, but showed a still of Franklin clutching her new piece of winning jewelry – had actually aired on the network right before their tape-delayed presentation of the backstroke final. I’m sure they actually meant to run it on the other side of the event, but it looks like they misjudged that. Not even Benson DuBois could bail the boys at NBC out of this one. And speaking of bad advertisement timing…

3. “National Broadcasting Company’s Animal House.” Seriously – of all the new shows that NBC could have ran a promo for on Thursday, August 2 right after a segment pointing out that Gabby Douglas had become the first African-American athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics (individual; she also won one as a member of a team two days earlier), it had to be for “Animal Practice,” and it had to involve a monkey doing gymnastics in the promo, didn’t it? It would cause the second apology that NBC would issue in a three-day period, on the heels of the Missy Franklin “Today” show spoiler. In this case, especially given how much time they had to compile all of the stopsets and work them around the segments, I’m with the Dallas Morning News’ Tod Robberson on this one: “Heads should roll over this.”

2. “The Fall Guy.” Guy Adams, the Los Angeles bureau chief for the British newspaper The Independent, was particularly incensed by being “forced to watch [the opening] ceremony on [a] SIX HOUR time delay” that he had vented aplenty about NBC’s coverage – from mocking Matt Lauer to the network “pretending the Olympics haven’t started yet”. One major target of Adams’ ire was NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel, whom Adams dubbed a “moronic exec behind the time delay [who should] be fired.” At one point, he even posted Zenkel’s corporate NBC Universal e-mail address in a tweet, urging his followers to “tell him what [you] think!” This led NBC to file a complaint with Twitter, citing Adams “tweeted the personal information of one of our executives,” which is a violation of Twitter’s privacy policy, adding: “Twitter alone levies discipline.” The discipline being, Adams’ Twitter account was suspended. So why does NBC get a “fail” here? Because not long after Twitter suspended Adams’ account, NBC tried to wash blood off of its hands by claiming that it was Twitter, and not NBC, that first got wind of Adams’ publishing of an NBC exec’s e-mail address in a tweet. “Our social media [department] was actually alerted to it by Twitter and then we filled out the form and submitted it,” says an NBC Sports communications executive. One thing to keep in mind here is that NBC and Twitter were corporate partners during the XXX Olympiad. Had Adams not shared Zenkel’s e-mail address early on, I wonder if he would have still been muzzled. Based on his subsequent anti-NBC commentary after his Twitter account was reinstated, I can only imagine if he would have eventually crossed a line landing him in “Twitter jail” anyway. And incidentally, as I post this item, congratulations to Guy Adams on the recent addition of a future NBC critic to his family.

1. “#NBCFail.” That sums up all of the foibles of NBC’s London Olympics coverage in a nutshell-flavored hashtag. Including their decision not to have a live stream of the opening ceremony available, as well as the streaming video issues many users have experienced. In fact, NBC has reportedly fed their corporate Olympic partner Twitter some money under the table, requesting that they prevent the #NBCFail hashtag from trending. People can still use it – and have they ever during the 2012 Olympic Games – but it won’t show up on the “Trends” list. Say what you want about that bush league move, but in the end, it appears that, for all of the viewer outrage over NBC’s decision to air selected events on tape delay in primetime, events that would not be available in any form on their website until they have been seen on the West Coast – a business decision – it appears that business is good. At the halfway point of the Olympics, they’ve already been surpassing records they had previously set with the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and are optimistic that a projected $200 million loss could transform into “a little bit of money”. And as of Saturday, the ratings returns indicate the 2012 Summer Olympics in London could be one of the top five television events of all time. Not a bad result for a network that withstood thousands of tweets with the #NBCFail hashtag, as well as the “NBC Delayed” parody Twitter accounts that popped up – not to mention the missteps that were laid out here.

So has NBC learned any lessons? It turns out we won’t have to wait until the 2016 Olympics bows in Rio de Janeiro to find out, or for that matter, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi: NBC announced on Saturday that they planned on streaming the closing ceremony live from London. This despite the network still showing it in primetime on tape delay. Could it be that NBC has made such a profit off of the London Olympics, that they’ve decided to appease their viewers’ complaints with this freebie? Or is it an olive branch encouraging viewers not to lose their trust during future Olympics broadcasts? (By the way, there’s just a one-hour time difference between Boston and Brazil – so chances are most of the events may end up being shown live by default.)

I will say this: the next time Evander Holyfield appears on the “Today” show to promote a book or a grilling machine… it’s going to be really awkward.

UPDATE: On that note, no sooner than ten hours after this list goes live, NBC dips back into the Holyfieldian well, and mistakes actor Jesse Eisenberg with the character he played in the film “The Social Network”, Mark Zuckerberg. Hope may be lost – but at least NBC was able to cash in with record ratings for the Olympics. I guess the moral of this “fail” list is, it really doesn’t matter how many “fails” can happen in a broadcast – if in the big picture, you deliver.

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