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Share a Tape-Delayed Moment With The World

It was a Sunday morning like any other. I walked down to the convenience mart that doesn't charge sales tax on newspapers and bought myself a copy of the Sunday L.A. Times. I walked across the street to the coffee shop, bought a cup of coffee and a blueberry scone, made my usual clumsy pass at the waitress and walked home chastened after said waitress had once again spurned my ham-fisted advances.

Because I wouldn't have it any other way.

So I sat in my dank apartment, eating my scone, drinking my coffee and reading about the Winter Olympics in the L.A. Times. And -- intense partisan of the fine art of luging that I am -- my eyes immediately honed in on an article chronicling the first day of competition in the men's luge. I thrilled to the fact that Germany's Georg Hackl had jumped out to another early lead, despaired that portly American Wendel Suckow was mired in sixth place and marveled that Austrian medal favorite Markus Prock had stumbled into third.

"If there's one thing we intense partisans of the fine art of luging have come to expect," I said to myself, since as I had mentioned, the coffee shop waitress did not follow me home, "it's to expect the unexpected."

Content with that moment of insight, I went about my busy day until a few hours later when I turned on the TV set to watch CBS' coverage of the Winter Olympics.

And CBS was carrying the same luge event I had read about hours ago.

There was Germany's Georg Hackl, jumping out to another early lead. There was portly American Wendel Suckow, miring himself in sixth place. There was Austrian medal favorite Markus Prock stumbling into third.

And there was me, shouting an unpleasant suggestion at my TV about where Jim Nantz could shove that moment I'm supposed to be sharing with the world.

We live in an age of instant communication. Events that transpire halfway around the globe can be beamed into our homes in a matter of seconds. News can spread in the blink of an eye. Rumors can circulate that the president is bopping an intern and within moments, TV crews are setting up camp in front of her father's Brentwood home. That may fall short of the Golden Age of news coverage, but at least I can find out if something's happening in the world in the time it takes to defrost a microwavable burrito.

So it's unsatisfactory -- no, disappointing -- to flip on the TV and see plausibly live coverage of a sporting event that I've just read about in the newspaper. Watching Olympic competition some 18 hours after it transpired gives the whole thing an otherworldly feel -- like the Olympics were filmed months ago at the same studio in Culver City, California that they used to stage the moon landing, and that CBS is just putting us all on.

But then, there's a lot about CBS' coverage that's been disappointing. We're only a handful of days into this hootenanny, and I've already exceeded FDA-recommended levels for pap, schmaltz and jingoism.

The good news, of course, is, that since these games are on CBS and not NBC, John Tesh and his assortment of strung-together cliches are nowhere to be found. The bad news is, that CBS has apparently tutored its announcers in the haunting Zen of Tesh.

"Tara Lipinski may be small," gushed human geyser of enthusiasm Scott Hamilton the other night, "but she has the heart of a warrior!"

Yes. And you have the brain of a pea.

In fairness, some of the problems that I have with the One-Eyed Network's coverage are not of its own doing. After all, it's not CBS' fault that a torrential snowstorm canceled the always exciting Men's Downhill and forced sweaty-lipped announcers to kill time for three hours. Unless it was the act of a vengeful God punishing CBS for making scatter-brained MTV personality Kennedy part of its broadcast team.

In which case, God is my kind of fellow.

But other problems are CBS' fault. Because if early indications hold true, these aren't the 1998 Winter Olympics so much as they are Tara Lipinski's Trip To Nagano and Other, Lesser Sports.

How do I know? Because the other night when CBS was forced to fill that gaping hole left in the scheduled by the snowed out skiing event, its crack team of reporters spent the better part of the evening trying to confirm rumors that -- and hold on to your hats and glasses, folks -- Lipinski was going to leave the Olympic Village for a few days to train in Osaka.

The discovery? She was. Why you should give a rat's ass? Stay tuned.

Then, as a part of its All Lipinski, All The Time coverage, CBS took us live to the practice rink where Lipinski -- she of the little body, but the warrior's heart -- was practicing her routine. And stayed there.

For 15 minutes.

We were treated to shots of Tara skating around the rink, stretching her quadricep, lacing up her skates. And all of it was accompanied by breathless commentary from the exuberant Hamilton, who should really switch to decaf before going on the air.

Of course, I'm a sports fan and consequently, not the target audience for the Winter Olympics. CBS isn't gearing its coverage to you folks out there clamoring to know who won the Italy-Kazakhstan showdown in hockey or those of you who live and die by the results of the Men's Nordic Combined.

Rather, CBS is catering to those housewives and little old ladies who tune in expecting to watch Diagnosis Murder or Nash Bridges and instead find guys named Sven and Ingmar and Olaf skating around in skin-tight leotards. And those viewers are very clear about what they expect in their Winter Olympics coverage.

Hokum. Mawkishness. Heart-warming stories about pixie-like figure skaters and how they had to overcome war, famine, ringworm, mange and dim-witted hired thugs who whack them in the knees with tire irons.

And CBS aims to please.

Witness the network's human interest stories that take a probing and thoughtful look at Japan's most sacred and traditions and customs while inviting the home viewer to laugh at the country's quaint, backward ways.

Failed morning show host Harry Smith gave us all the inside scoop on sumo wrestling in a 10-minute feature piece that included shots of the sumos toweling each other off after a strenuous workout. Harry's conclusion? The sumos may be fat, but they have the hearts of champions.

Then there are the commercials, so numerous and frequent that it's enough to turn a committed capitalist like myself into a beret-wearing, fist-in-the-air socialist who rails about the nefarious ways of Korporate Amerika. CBS can't string together five minutes of semi-live coverage (featuring on-air personalities clad in parkas prominently displaying the Nike logo), it seems, without cutting away to some huckster or pitchman trying to sell you some shiny new contraption.

It's hard to fault CBS. They have to move product, I realize. But do they have to do it so often? I mean, if everything were interrupted by commercials Buy Coke so that you couldn't just sit down Drive a Ford and enjoy yourself Campbell's Soup is mmm-mmm good then you would find it pretty Watch Cosby, you sheep annoying.

With all these problems, it's no wonder that CBS' ratings are falling to earth faster than a cross-eyed ski jumper. Saturday night's coverage tallied a 12.2 rating and a 21 share, the lowest-rated night in the Winter Olympics since 1988. Granted, that's the night of the aborted downhill event, but it doesn't bode well for the nation's interest in these particular Olympics, heart-warming stories about pixie-like skaters be damned.

Still, I hear CBS has an ace in the hole. Tonight, they're planning to air footage of Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan painting their toenails.

Tape-delayed, of course. And right after these commercial messages.


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