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All the News That's Fit to Delay

No, NBC did not beat me up every day at school. Agents of the Peacock Network did not drive to my childhood home, burn it to a cinder and piss on the ashes. Robert Wright has never called up me up at odd hours of the night, hummed the GE "We bring good things to life" jingle and then hung up cackling.

At least, I assume that wasn't Robert Wright.

But frequent readers of this Web site -- and hello to you, too, Mom -- may get the impression that I have some sort of chip on my shoulder toward all things Must-See. The network rolls out a slate of new sitcoms, I walk around making the "Who farted?" look. Warren Littlefield quits as head programmer, I just take all the nasty things I've ever written about him, cross out his name and scribble in Scott Sassa's. Round these parts, when it comes to NBC, never was heard an encouraging word.

And that's unfortunate. Because I don't have it in for NBC. Oh sure, they routinely cancel some of my favorite shows and prop up warmed-over tripe in its place. They've tried, at various times, to make stars out of the dubious likes of Brooke Shields, Jonathan Silverman and Jenny McCarthy. They are purveyors of the vanilla, patron saints of the bland, friend to the uninspired and middle-of-the-road.

But then, every network cancels some of my favorite shows. Every network props up warmed-over tripe. Swap in the names Sue Costello, Brian Benben and Tony Danza, and every network seems to be part of the same government program for keeping the hack employment level at near-record highs. So when you look at it that way, you'll see that NBC holds the same position of esteem in my heart enjoyed by the other networks. Which is sort of like saying I don't dislike intestinal flu any more than I do rickets.

Still, that's of small comfort to the folks at NBC. Put yourself in their position: you're out there, busting your tail, trying to entertain America with the story of a pair of mismatched roommates or a love-struck single woman or a pair of mismatched love-struck single women who share a room. And you're pleased with your work, confident that you've scheduled a show worthy of the Must-See label carried by so many programs before it.

And then some punk mocks you on a penny-ante Web site.

That stings if you're NBC. Sure, you're a national broadcasting corporation, but that doesn't mean you don't have feelings. First, you cry. You cry a lot. And, as the pain and hurt gives way to anger and resentment, you long for revenge.

And the next thing you know, Jenny McCarthy has another TV series in the works.

All that's great for driving Web traffic -- what will those cantankerous Vidiots say about NBC this time? -- but it doesn't do much for establishing a constructive dialogue with the movers and shakers in Peacock Land. Say we aim some sort of criticism at NBC, something constructive like "Must you continue to pollute the airwaves with those tedious Bright-Kauffman-Crane sitcoms?" Despite our best intentions -- despite our desire only to help NBC help itself -- the network suits don't listen to us. We lay into them with criticism, they stick their fingers in their ears, rock back and forth and keep humming until we throw up our hands and go back to watching Frasier reruns.

Nothing ever gets done. Nothing ever changes.

Well, I won't be party to this feud any longer. I want to offer an olive branch to NBC. Nothing nice to say about NBC? Then I won't say it at all any more. And instead of harping on the negative, I'm going to accentuate the positive. I'm going to only talk about NBC's great contributions to our 500-channel universe.

I'm sure in a week or two, I'll be able to think of a couple.

But until then, I would like to offer NBC this heartfelt apology. Like many people, I jumped all over the network when Dick Ebersol -- excuse me, the great Dick Ebersol -- announced that NBC would tape delay the entire Olympics. Not a single moment of the Sydney games would air live on American TV.

Outrageous, the critics exclaimed. What arrogance, they fumed. NBC has doomed us to another Olympiad with over-blown, over-produced jingoistic blather, they declared.

And they're largely correct. But I choose to look at the positive aspects of NBC's decision to air musty, drama-free footage of events that concluded days ago. And I see a money-making opportunity.

Last week, a job assignment took me overseas to Paris, France -- this Internet punditry racket is a good gig -- where I happened to catch the first day of EuroSport's Olympic telecast while waiting for my return flight to the San Francisco. Paris, which is some nine hours behind Sydney, gets live Olympic coverage from midnight to 1 in the afternoon. EuroSport then repeats the live broadcast, with a best-of show airing just before midnight.

The old, negative Philip Michaels might question how NBC couldn't come up with such a scheme. The new, life-affirming me, however, thanks NBC for its thoughtful foresight in keeping America in the dark.

I saw all the results that first day -- Ian Thorpe's gold medals, the women's triathlon, even men's and women's air rifle. Then, I boarded a United 777, had myself one of the worst flights in recorded history, and arrived back on U.S. soil just in time for NBC's tape-delayed coverage to begin.

I don't think I need to explain what a wondrous gift NBC has presented to me.

There I was, watching the Olympics live on tape with people who hadn't seen the results 12 hours earlier. "Sure, that Michellie Jones is a fine triathlete," I found myself saying. "But I got a good feeling about those Swiss women. What say we make a friendly wager?"

"Ian Thorpe? Yeah, he's a prohibitive favorite in the freestyle tonight. But I lay you three to one odds that he sets a world record here."

"How confident am I that the Chinese men will lead the men's team gymnastic competition after two rotations? I'm a double-or-nothing kind of confident."

And so on. By the end of the evening, if collecting on friendly wagers were an Olympic event, they would have been playing my national anthem.

I would have hawked the gold medal for walking-around cash, too.

Naturally, to profit from NBC's broadcast strategy, a couple of things have to fall into place first.


Plane tickets are very expensive. And unless you are betting with spendthrifts, you will not be able to recoup the cost of your airfare making $10 wagers on the bronze medallist in the women's 100-meter backstroke. (Penny Heyns, this sawbuck is partly yours!)


If you make long-distance phone calls from Paris trying to convince friends and loved ones to wager on the Italy-South Africa baseball tilt, they are bound to get suspicious.


You will look foolish.

Now maybe you're thinking, "Phil, it's all right for a man like yourself to jet off to Paris at a moment's notice. But how can an ill-mannered bumpkin like myself ever hope to make heads or tails of EuroSport and its foreign Olympic coverage?" But I wouldn't worry. You see, apart from being able to tell people that I'm very tired or that I'd like to try the rooster in wine sauce, I can't speak a lick of French. I can't even pantomime it well, if the reactions of various French service industry workers are anything to go by. And I got along great.

The wonderful thing about European sports coverage is that they apparently haven't discovered the "up close and personal" approach to broadcasting that the American networks favor during the Olympics. In the couple of hours I spent watching EuroSport, I didn't see one feature on a courageous rhythmic gymnast battling shingles, an abusive, drunken stepfather and narcolepsy. I didn't have to hear about what inner demons the Romanian team handball captain must battle or how many diseases have felled Indonesia's badminton star. All I got was sports -- events, action, results. And since this was a European telecast and not one from NBC, I was able to see Olympic participants from more than one country.

I almost went into withdrawal.

But that sounds awfully close to negativity, and we know how well NBC deals with that. I can only hope NBC shrugs off those last, ill-considered comments and lets bygones be bygones. But I know that after the crying jag stops, NBC will look for a way to get even, to hit you and me where it hurts.

Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for beach volleyball coverage with your hosts, Brooke Shields and Jonathan Silverman.


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