When the Olympic flame is put out Sunday night, it may not just signal the end of the 2010 Vancouver Games but of NBC's affiliation with the Winter Olympics. This will come as welcome news to the legions of critics who vilify the network for not showing live coverage of daytime events and tape-delaying broadcasts to the West Coast, but it shouldn't. As Joni Mitchell sang, "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." An NBC-less Olympics will have its positives, but rooting for the network to abandon the Games is almost definitely a "be careful what you wish for" situation.
For all the network does wrong in televising the Games, it also does a lot right. NBC provides simple, restrained coverage, something that's a lot harder to do than it sounds. Take Thursday night's figure-skating competition: The network aired 35 uninterruped minutes of skating with pitch-perfect announcing, a minimum of manufactured drama, no annoying graphics and direction that followed the action, not dictated it.
On another network we may have had meaningless blather from sideline reporters or cluttering, uninformative graphics on the screen. Instead of sticking with a tight camera shot of the skaters after their routines, there could have been countless shots of fans and coaches. (Dictating action, not following.) This sounds like easy stuff, but it's amazing how many networks get it wrong.
That's not to say that NBC always gets it right. The tape-delay decision deservedly generates ill will. It's archaic and out of step with an age in which news cycles barely last through the day. But too often the evaluation of the network's Olympic broadcasts begins and ends with that one (very large) flaw. The top-notch talent, crisp production and seamless coverage are overlooked.
Remember those things in four years if the Olympics jump to another network. Only then will we realize how good we had it with NBC.