Not a single medal has been awarded yet at the XXIII Winter Olympics, but if there was a gold for commentary doubles, then Katie Couric and Mike Tirico were well in the running tonight with NBC’s Opening Ceremony from PyeongChang,
In a move that would have seemed almost impossible over the years of awkward Olympics banality from the now thankfully pink-slipped Today co-host Matt Lauer, part of that move to the top of the victors’ podium was the decision by NBC to lunge straight for the geopolitical tale, then shift to the sports narrative in the first of the next three Games to be held in Asia. Another ultimately more significant success was the easy chemistry between the four-time vet Couric and the former Monday Night Football announcer and Olympic first timer Tirico.
Sure, there was the relentless trivia about the breakdown of Team USA, plus every country and almost every athlete of the nearly 3,000 marching in the Parade of Nations and the occasional pothole from third wheel and returning NBC Olympics contributor Joshua Cooper Ramos. However, as with the visually stunning morphing of 1,200 pre-recorded drones near the end of the Opening Ceremony, jumping onto a quip by Tirico on Twitter shout-outs, Couric’s “That’s something I definitely did not say at my last Opening Ceremony” exposed in one of many times on Friday the skills of two seamless and secure pros performing at one of the highest levels, even if their on-air energy could have used a boost now and then.
Then again, though Tirico has had over a year to prepare for his new big gig after taking over from Bob Costas, this duo actually came together in just a few weeks.
After co-hosting the Opening Ceremony in Sydney, Salt Lake City, and Athens in the past, former Today co-host Couric was drafted into NBC service again for PyeongChang last month by Jim Bell, President, NBC Olympics Production and Programming, to take over the spot left vacant by Lauer’s firing. Twelve years after she left NBC to become the anchor of the CBS Evening News, Couric’s stint tonight shows her institutional skills were the cavalry that the Olympic coverage needed following intended co-host Lauer’s November 29, 2017 dismissal over what the net politely called “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.”
As perhaps partial payback of sorts and a nice rebuff to those who took to senselessly slagging the duo on social media, Tirico tonight made certain in an Opening Ceremony discussion about the possible addictive qualities of technology to lob his co-host an opportunity to plug her upcoming America Inside Out with Katie Couric series. As Couric made sure we knew, the six-part National Geographic docu-series debuts on April 11
Amidst the K-Pop, the almost-required lip-synced rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” VR, and less hokey than described lighting of the cauldron by 2010 figure skating Olympic champion Yuna Kim, Lauer was missed only for how low our expectations of what NBC’s Opening Ceremony coverage could be. In that critical stance, some may pinch NBC for editing elements of the Opening Ceremony for tonight’s primetime coverage. In all honesty, that’s the nature of such events, and despite all the hard work that PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games organizing chief Lee Hee-beom put in to pull this event off, if that’s a speech you really want to see, it and other trimmed bits are accessible on the unprecedented thousands of hours of streaming that NBCUniversal is putting up online live and archived.
Even before the net displayed host South Korea and its neighboring sister state, the ever-contentious North Korea, marching under one flag in front of a crowd of over 35,000 at PyeongChang’s open air stadium, Couric and Tirico got a head start on the Great Game, to use that 19th century expression, truly being played out in these Winter Olympics that run until February 25.
“Whether it’s the time or the place, the global gathering that is the Olympic Games seems to always come at a pivotal moment,” a Tirico told viewers in the live-in-all-time-zones coverage. “For 2018 in South Korea, it’s both the time and place,” he added. “The global flashpoint of North Korea is just 60 miles from this stadium, yet the power of sport and the Olympics has bridged that gap and the longest militarized border in the world,” the ex-ESPNer asserted of the “politics and pageantry” of the night.
Starting off with scatterings of pre-taped Korean BBQ with Today’s Natalie Morales, an opening Always Start With the Dreams film voiced by one of NBC’s dramatic winning team, This Is Us’ Sterling K Brown, and once the ceremony began, lots of the unavoidable Wikipedia-like snippets of insight on the significance of white tigers and how mountainous South Korea is, the Bell-overseen coverage appeared to make a distinct point of nudging its American audience towards the widest perspective possible.
Obviously, as has been widely distilled since the Song Seung-whan choreographed and sometimes TV-only “augmented reality” extravaganza occurred over 12 hours ago, there was clear tension in the VIP box between a very closely seated Vice-President Mike Pence and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s sister Kim Yo-jong. That was noted off the bat with a deadpan Couric declaring how the isolated and nuclear missile-threatening North is “universally considered one of the most barbaric and brutal regimes in the world.”
In that vein, as Couric later injected when noting the human rights violations pervasive in North Korea, not everything was sugar and icy spice in PyeongChang today despite the “Peace In Motion” theme of the ceremony.
For one, a security lapse saw an unidentified red-garbed man wearing headphones wandering around the stadium during the artistic portion of the show on two occasions. Then there was the Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un impersonators who were eventually hustled out of the stadium today and never showed up on NBC’s coverage.
Sadly, for another thing, the televised shindig did not benefit from the infectious enthusiasm of Leslie Jones. On deck as a commentator for the Games and expected in South Korea in the next few days, the Saturday Night Live cast member and Rio 2016 NBC alum bowed out tonight:
Hey everyone I know y’all want live tweeting on opening ceremonies but I’m literally going to bed early tonight and I’m gonna be in a coma til tomorrow night for the games. So exhausted and Want to be nice and rested! Got a lot of work ahead!! @Olympics
— Leslie Jones 🦋 (@Lesdoggg) February 10, 2018
American speed skater Shani Davis also skipped the Opening Ceremony. But unlike Jones’ exhaustion, his absence was due to a dust-up over who should be the U.S flag bearer after Erin Hamlin was selected in a tie-breaking coin toss. In far less pointed circumstances, skier Mikeala Shiffrin was among those absent too in preparation for her upcoming event on Sunday. Yet, with some back and forth joshing by the nicely relaxed and well paced NBC hosts, a Winter Olympics debut for Nigeria, Ecuador, Eritrea, Kosovo, Singapore and Malaysia and the “Gangnam Style” entering Ralph Lauren-garbed Team USA in the midsection of the Parade of Nations, the Comcast-owned net certainly caught an unintended break or two over Rio 2016 and Sochi 2014.
Seeking traction over the last ratings-challenged Winter Games, there was the parachuting-in of Couric and the geopolitical ethos which gave NBC’s winter coverage a sense of urgency in a simmering hot spot. But there was also the in-stadium, audience friendly milder weather than expected for the 3,000 athletes from 92 nations, including an expressedly photogenic “excited” fourth time Olympian Shaun White and two-time medalist Lindsey Vonn of Team USA and the vast roar that greeted the one-man Tongan team of the once again shirtless Pita Taufatofua.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 10, 2018
Propelled to international stardom in 2016 with his equally unrobed and joyful strut around the Rio Opening Ceremony, now cross-country skier Taufatfua played right back to the crowd and the camera. Begging the question, when will he be added to NBC’s currently 89-strong roaster of commentators?
There certainly should be a spot made available for him.
Joining the duo in the announcer booth periodically for the first time since Beijing 2008, the now Kissinger & Associates vice chair and co-CEO Ramo seemed intent on delivering the pummeling gravitas that characterized the worst aspects of Bob Costas’ long Olympic commentator reign. Dropping generic Otto von Bismarck and cul-de-sac explanations of Korean and Asian culture, Ramos seemed to be striving for purpose most of the night. Answering a question from Couric early on about the significance of the joint Koreas entrance at the Opening Ceremony, his response of “It’s going to be one of these unforgettable, electric, historical moments. But what we honestly don’t know yet is why it’s historic” was more pabulum than political insight.
Drawing a 3.7/14 rating among adults 18-49 and 16.00 million viewers for the their primetime coverage of skiing and skating on the first unofficial day of the PyeongChang Games, NBC find themselves down double digits from Sochi 2014. In today’s multi-platform media landscape, they might just have to accept the realities of the new metrics.
Yet, 30 years after South Korea last hosted an Olympics and in the net’s 10th consecutive Games, if tonight’s comprehensive approach from Katie Couric and Mike Tirico during the Opening Ceremony is any indication, NBC is going for quality amongst the excitement of the international gathering.
As Couric said after the Opening Ceremony was over, “Lots of drama on multiple levels.” That’s a winning formula on any stage or screen.