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TNT Goes For the Cold

Of course you knew that in this Winter Olympic season, us wacky kids at TeeVee would spent some time taking shots at CBS' Olympic coverage. It's our duty.

(Besides, since the cowards programming the other networks have conceded that CBS' Olympic coverage is going to blast all other programming out of the water this month, they've decided to dip deep into the rerun bag, giving us very little else to complain about. And you know how much we like to complain.)

It's fair to note that televising the Olympics isn't an easy task. So many sports and such a small window of prime time to show all those sports. NBC thought it had the answer in the 1992 Barcelona games with the Olympic TripleCast, a fine concept that pushed all but the highest-profile events onto three pay-per-view cable channels and lost NBC a fortune.

Forced to make a choice between appealing to the majority of the U.S. population that's either female, old, or not interested in sports and America's sports fans, CBS has chosen not to serve sports fans. The results? Wall-to-wall figure skating in prime time, Dream Team hockey moved to late night, other sports dropped off the map entirely.

Granted, CBS did show the men's Downhill in prime time, which allowed all Americans to view the spectacle of European supermen crashing horizontally into fences at 80 mph. Plus, a nation of grateful musicians were able to tune their instruments to the pitch of the thousands of harmonicas being blown constantly by Japanese fans during the event.

But airing the downhill was an exception. Rather than showing Picabo Street's gold-medal victory in the women's Super G the day it happened, CBS chose to delay it 26 hours, apparently to sync up their broadcast with viewers watching on Mars.

Though we can heap a good deal of scorn on CBS' lowbrow, poorly-planned, poorly-manned coverage--aren't they lucky they did their deal with the NFL before the games began?--we have to remember that things could be worse.

Just watch TNT, and you'll see.

You see, the Nagano games are part of a strange Olympic timeshare arrangement. During the day, when CBS is too busy airing The Price Is Right to deal with the technical aspects of the Luge, cable channel TNT takes over. And man, was CBS wise in letting TNT in on the action.

TNT's coverage is shockingly bad, even worse than sister-station TBS's eye-poppingly awful Atlanta Braves baseball games. While Jim Nantz and the rest of the CBS anchor crew hold court in a lovely wood-floor and fireplace set that could've come right off the showroom floor at Ikea, TNT's anchor crew, led by stiff-haired Jim Lampley, has apparently been forced to broadcast from a meat locker somewhere in Nagano. As Lampley talks, you can actually see his breath forming mist in the air--and this, even though he's under a battery of TV lights hot enough to melt cheese.

Two days in, Lampley was already suffering from Laryngitis, forcing him to repeat whole sentences several times until his vocal cords finally kicked in. "Let's go to White Ri, Whi, Let's, Let's Go to... Let's Skate."

In almost Prince-like fashion, Lampley has decided to refer to the Sport Formerly Known As Snowboarding only obliquely, apparently because his strained larynx can no longer make the right set of noises. "Now let's go visit that sport, the one you know, the one I'm not going to call by name."

Did nobody in the vast TNT/Turner/Time Warner empire think to pack a couple of space heaters? Was Ted Turner too busy coughing up a billion for the United Nations to donate Jim Lampley a few cough drops?

If TNT's anchor situation is bad, the coverage around it is even worse. When I tuned in last week, I was treated to an entire woman's cross-country ski race, which was vaguely interesting and absolutely 100% Olympic related. Kudos to the kids in Nagano for their wisdom.

But the other stuff TNT spent their time with... I'm afraid you wouldn't believe me if I told you. But let's try.

One of the regular components of TNT's Olympic coverage is, apparently, a cooking segment with a Japanese chef who speaks halting English. For what seemed like forever but was probably only 15 minutes, this chef painstakingly explained how to make a California Roll. I still don't understand the difference between the Giant Slalom and the Super G, but I now know that given enough rice, seaweed, cucumber, and fish, I could be well on my way to the Kitchen Stadium.

Another segment I watched was a very thoughtful piece about the lives of Japanese-Americans, including the black history of World War II-era internment camps. The piece, by CNN's Jim Huber, was suitable for airing on just about any network news magazine. But during Olympic coverage?

Surely, I kept telling myself as I watched the story, one of these people is going to end up being an Olympic athlete in Nagano.

But no. The Olympic connection? The story was about a Japanese-American composer named Kent Nagano.

Pronounced differently.

Who can forget CBS' excellent story about men named Albert at the 1992 Albertville games, or the award-winning History of Hammers essay the Creepy Eye network broadcast at Lillehammer in 1994? Coming in 2002 on TNT's Winter Olympic coverage from Salt Lake City: 101 Ways to Season With Salt!

So though we will continue to take glee in making fun of CBS' awful coverage, let's keep in mind that it's only the second-worst U.S. network broadcasting these games. I can see the new CBS slogan now: "CBS Sucks... But TNT Blows!"

And for the love of god, someone get Jim Lampley a blanket.


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