Americans tuning in to the 2002 Winter Games next February will see something they might not be expecting at the first major international gathering since the events of Sept. 11 — scenes of carefree party-goers cavorting in the streets.
Network officials say the terrorist attacks against the United States won't be forgotten. But aside from a story on Games security set to air before the opening ceremonies, fun, not fear, will be the focus of NBC's coverage.
"The Olympics are almost like comfort food," David Neal, NBC Olympics' executive vice president, said. "That's something all of us are looking for right now. We're looking to be reassured. We're looking to take a break from watching all the constant updates on the war."
Especially the U.S. television audience. "For American viewers, these Games represent almost a respite from what has become a very stressful world," Neal said. "We want to focus on what we think is going to be a really terrific, joyous two weeks here in Salt Lake."
To find the fun, the network has assembled a special features unit that will dispatch crews everywhere from private clubs to city streets. The parties they come across will be broadcast live throughout each evening's Olympic programming.
The war against terrorism is likely to also spark unprecedented displays of patriotism among Americans during the Games. NBC, which has been criticized in the past for overemphasizing U.S. athletes in its Olympic coverage, is treading carefully there.
The Salt Lake Games "will not be wrapped in the flag by NBC," Neal said. "We think there will be spontaneous patriotic celebrations by the fans and the athletes. We can't and we won't choreograph those. But when they happen, we want to capture them."
NBC polls found that after Sept. 11, the Olympics have become more important to the nation. "Americans take great pride in hosting the world and in the notion of a peaceful global gathering," Neal said.
The world view
The world, which will watch the Games on television networks around the globe that paid nearly $740 million for broadcast rights, expects to see some flag-waving in Salt Lake, said Brian Williams, host of the Canadian Broadcast Co.'s Olympic coverage.
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"I think people will look on American patriotism with maybe a different view than in the past," Williams said. "People, especially in this country (Canada), are very understanding and appalled by what went on Sept. 11th."
But Williams said not everyone will appreciate Games that are too red, white and blue.
"Some people think it is a positive. Some people think it is a negative. I just have great respect for the Americans because they have great pride in their country and themselves. Having said that, sometimes it does go a bit over the top."
The Salt Lake Organizing Committee has tried to keep that from happening. SLOC President Mitt Romney said the heroes and victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will be honored before rather than during the opening ceremonies.
The opening ceremonies, Romney said, "should be a tribute to the Olympic movement on a worldwide basis. It should not be primarily a patriotic tribute. . . . We want not to be the Americans who beat their own chest but the Americans who welcome the world."
For example, Romney said there won't be an Air Force fly-by over the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium during the ceremonies. "This is not a show of U.S. military strength," he said.
That was a decision made even before the attacks, Romney said, after hearing from ceremonies producer Don Mischer that "Americans often are seen as a bit overbearing and imposing our patriotism on everyone else."
The opening ceremonies are expected to be aired by most if not all of the networks that have paid for the broadcast rights to the Salt Lake Games. It will be up to each network whether to air footage from SLOC's pre-opening ceremonies, Sept. 11 tribute.
NBC will address the security concerns raised by the terrorist attacks in a report by news correspondent Robert Hager that will be broadcast an hour or so before opening ceremonies begin.
Similar treatment was given by the network to the scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's Olympic bid before the start of the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. Neal said viewers expect the network to address controversial issues.
"It's the kind of thing that any viewer would find it odd if it was not done," he said.
Sushi in Salt Lake
Don't expect, though, to hear about Utah's quirky liquor laws or anything that might suggest it's difficult to have a good time here. In fact, there will only be a few stories about anything to do with the Beehive State.
NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw has already interviewed Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for a segment on the church's history in Utah.
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Brokaw will also narrate a longer piece on Utah's 10th Mountain Division, the U.S. Army's winter warfare force whose members included former Vice President Bob Dole and leaders of the country's ski industry.
Another piece, on the joining of the transcontinental railroad near Brigham City, will feature historian Stephen Ambrose.
Much of what viewers see of Utah, however, will be "wintery, Western images" such as snow on Delicate Arch, Neal said.
"One thing about doing a domestic Games is that Americans don't really feel they need to be introduced," he said. "We didn't do travelogue-type pieces in Atlanta (during the 1996 Summer Games) nor will we here."
Canadian viewers are getting just that, the CBC's Williams said. He made his first trip to Utah last year and taped features on everything from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to the venues.
"I don't want to say (Utah) will be portrayed favorably. It will be portrayed as it is," Williams said "Hopefully, we will come with no fixed stereotypes." Except maybe about the variety of food available in Utah.
"I didn't expect to find sushi in downtown Salt Lake," Williams said.
While the CBC will have one of the biggest operations in Salt Lake City to serve Canada's winter sports-loving viewers, at least one network that has broadcast rights won't be sending even a single reporter to the Games.
Jamaica's CVM network is relying solely on footage supplied by International Sports Broadcasting, a Salt Lake City-based company hired by SLOC to provide live coverage of every athlete in every event — what's known as the host broadcast feed.
International Sports Broadcasting, usually just called ISB, will feed some 900 hours of coverage to each of the networks that have broadcast rights including NBC, plus another 20 to 30 features about Utah, Mark Parkman, ISB's vice president of operations, said.
None of the features, which include a script that can be translated by the networks, could be considered controversial, Parkman said. They deal with subjects like the LDS Church, Utah's national parks and the Great Salt Lake, he said.
In Jamaica's case, most of the television time will be devoted to the tropical island's bobsled teams, known to the world because of the movie, "Cool Runnings," according to Milton Walker, CVM's manager for news and sports.
Although the station attracts as many as 1 million viewers a night for the news, Walker said he doubts the Games will be as popular. "There's a fair amount of interest in the winter sports," he said. "It's quite a new phenomenon."
For the Olympic junkie
Americans will see more than just NBC's prime-time coverage of the Games. Besides the 168 hours scheduled on the network, cable channels MSNBC and CNBC are expected to air 131 hours and 76 hours of Olympic programming respectively.
The network and the cable channels will feature plenty of live coverage of competitions, a change from Sydney when viewers usually knew the outcome of an event before it aired, due to the time difference between America and Australia.
And instead of lots of the long taped features on competitors that NBC is noted for, the network is relying more on commentators to weave the athletes' stories into their coverage of the events.
There will also be a 90-minute late-night program on NBC featuring Jay Leno. "The Tonight Show" host is coming to Utah in January to tape segments for his part of the show, including the popular "Jay-walking."
The second half of the late-night program will kick off with a song from that evening's performance at the downtown medals plaza, where the list of entertainers includes the Dave Matthews Band, N'Sync and Foo Fighters.
The rest of the NBC show may include footage from the nightly medals award ceremonies at the plaza, interviews and possibly even some of that day's competition. Neal compared the late-night program to "The Dream," which aired in Australia during the 2000 Games.
Aussies will get another chance to see the wildly popular and irreverent hosts Roy and H.G. make fun of the Olympics during the Salt Lake Games. Australia's Channel 7 is planning to broadcast a new version, "Ice Dream," from Utah.
American viewers will get a dose of serious news from Salt Lake when NBC Nightly News with Brokaw airs from a special studio in the Salt Palace on Feb. 8 to cover President Bush's expected appearance at the Games' opening ceremonies.
"The Today Show" will also broadcast from Utah throughout the Games, starting three days before opening ceremonies. Both Matt Lauer and Katie Couric will be here to host the network's morning program.
And the network's news operation will be set up in Salt Lake throughout the Games to handle any breaking stories about security or other problems that may surface. The hope, of course, is that they won't have much to report.
NBC wants to set a, well, fun tone the first night with a show that may open with a shot provided by NASA of the earth from space that zooms seamlessly straight into Rice-Eccles Stadium.
And listen for the latest version of "Coming to America" sung by Neil Diamond and Melissa Etheridge, already being played during the network's own commercials promoting the Salt Lake Games.
No one is saying much about the opening ceremonies themselves, but Neal promised they'll be impressive. "There is an element of grandeur," he said. "There will be an almost equal measure of athleticism as well as theatrical performance."
That could incorporate performers from Broadway and the Cirque du Soleil. Plus something Neal described only as "a high-tech component. . . . There's some gee-whiz elements in the show.
"That's all I'm going to say."