Sustainability, the Brazilian resourcefulness trait of gambiarra and smiling were the designated themes of the globally aimed Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. By that criteria, NBC’s time-delayed coverage tonight barely got a bronze medal with less than qualifying pacing, insipid and sometimes questionable commentary, unimaginative production, and way too many ads that resulted in the amazing feat of turning a Brazilian celebration into a bit of a bore.
Far closer to real time than the last several Olympic openers and considering all that could have gone wrong with this relatively low-budget affair in the socially and politically conflicted nation, the results of the beginning of South America’s first-ever Games were solidly mixed — despite NBC’s best or worst efforts.
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Bob Costas did not get off to a good start with his disjointed voice-over introduction that began the Comcast-owned net’s show that lasted more than four hours. “The striking vista of Copacabana Beach on a Friday evening in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where tonight, amid a mixture of anticipation, excitement, curiosity, controversy and concern, the Games of the XXXI Olympiad officially commence with an Opening Ceremony at storied Maracana Stadium promising music, dancing and a spirit of revelry that endures in the face of everything else as a Brazilian signature,” the now-clear-eyed veteran Olympics broadcaster said at 4:30 PM PT, seeking to insert his own brand of breathless solemnity into the just under 5-hour long proceedings. A subsequent package of chatting with the relentlessly name-dropped Michael Phelps and the creatives behind the ceremony dragged on almost as much. Thankfully, a backstage interview with multi-Olympian Allyson Felix capped it off with some of the energy with which she rules the track.
Alternating between awe, trivia and banality, co-hosts Matt “We’re back right after this” Lauer, Meredith “Heart and soul” Vieira, and Hoda “Did somebody say party?” Kotb’s curated broadcast dimmed supermodel Gisele Bundchen, as “The Girl from Ipanema,” strutting her stuff, transsexual model Lea T leading in Brazil’s team, marathonist Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima lighting the Olympic caldron, the innovative projection of video floor flooding and an overview of the Amazon, and early and later fireworks. Even though you could clearly hear the boos on the East Coast feed, not one of the co-hosts mentioned the acting Brazilian President Michel Temer getting loudly jeered by the stadium crowd when he took to the mic briefly to declare the games open – and then fireworks drowned everything out.
With trite Kotb comments like “check out Djibouti” during the parade of nations, the trio dampened the Cirque du Soleil-assisted use of parkour dancers, organizers’ environmental concerns and poetry readings from Oscar winner Judi Dench and Brazilian Oscar nominee Fernanda Montenegro. When Kotb referred to the “MacGyver spirit” of the host nation during the visually arresting first-in-flight portion, and a Kitty Hawk-lamenting Lauer added, “How are they going to feel about this back in the States?” Vieira had to jump in like an exasperated mom to remind them, “It’s Brazil’s turn.”
Additionally, turning down the volume on the section that celebrated the musical and dance culture of the favelas and clubs to have Opening Ceremonies production designer Daniela Thomas pop up on screen to explain how she went into those areas for her research dripped with condescension. The fact she kept popping up to “acknowledge” and explain the divisions in Brazilian society was almost even more distracting and deflating than all those constant commercial breaks.
Still, even with a dumb comment from one of the co-hosts of Brazilians being “cultural cannibals,” nothing could stop the sheer samba and Carnival exuberance of thousands of dancers from all genres jolting the 80,000-seat stadium and Stateside viewers with more fluidity and skin than any Games has ever seen outside of Men’s Swimming.
Granted, though the soccer legend got a shout-out by Lauer early on, there was no Pele after all to provide that Muhammad Ali In Atlanta ’96 moment.
— Pelé (@Pele) August 6, 2016
However, add to the ceremony the Internet-busting oiled-down flag bearer for Tonga Pita Nikolas Taufatofua, the cultural thrust of the way-too-short international launch of 12-year-old activist rapper MC Soffia, the beauty of the Athlete’s Forest and its hopeful legacy, and the non-event of Team USA flag-bearer Phelps’ disco-lights jacket, and Rio’s apparently hitch-free celebration still managed to shine through at portions. But you have to wonder how many Stateside viewers tuned out early with America much closer to the front of the 206-strong parade of nations than usual this year thanks to its translation into Estados Unidos da América in the host nation’s primary language of Portuguese.
Sure, delayed by an hour to slot into U.S. primetime, the Opening Ceremonies broadcast got “fail” flack on social media and had some issues — to put it mildly. Besides everything I’ve mentioned already, and the co-hosts’ pointless patter, NBC stiffed going directly to the action in the stadium with an opening inspirational film voiced by Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito that was supposed to sizzle but barely flickered with its mood swings — can we recommend filmmakers such as Ava DuVernay or Kathryn Bigelow be put in charge of that for Tokyo 2020? It didn’t do the lackluster video any favors that it was followed immediately by even bigger buzz kill of a Chicago Med promo and not anything of the 11,000 participating athletes.
Then there was the rambling Geopolitics 101 sample of a longer Golf Channel interview to be aired Saturday with President Barack Obama on “the Olympic ideal.” Costas’ question afterwards to correspondent David Feherty of what sport POTUS would have chosen if he had been an Olympic competitor reeked of Barbara Walters querying subjects on what tree they would be, and of network time-killing.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 5, 2016
So, now the real competition starts – tell us what you thought of NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad? That’s the real gold to us.
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