What an unusual confluence of events for a Sunday! The end of the Beijing Olympics, the beginning of the Democratic National Convention. Two events filled with pomp, pageantry, and relentless, merciless press coverage. Something about this calendar coincidence hit me today as I watched the Sunday morning hosts hold court before a packed ballroom in Denver. Tom Brokaw sat in as the face of NBC's Meet The Press, but he was quick to characterize himself as that show's temporary custodian. The void left by the tragic, too soon death of Tim Russert was feelingly present, and I'm sure I wasn't the only person in the room to wonder who might one day fill that chair, at that trapezoidal table, on a permanent basis. And that's when it hit me.
Hey! Why not Bela Karolyi?
For those of us who indulged in NBC's round-the-clock coverage of the Summer Games, Bela Karolyi's in studio contributions were nearly as memorable as his contributions as the coach of various Olympic gymnasts, for both his home country of Romania, and here in the States. On camera, his cultural duality was a broad part of his appeal -- a product of Eastern Europe wearing his love for the United States on his sleeve. Karolyi held court with NBC's ace sports journalist Bob Costas on the travails and tribulations of his wife Marta's U.S. Women's Gymnastic Team charges, peppering the conversation with bracing, unedited enthusiasm. It made for surprising, gloriously off-the-cuff television, with an often genuinely floored Costas enjoying the ride.
Of course, it wasn't just Karolyi's exuberance that made him so compelling. He helped to drive one of the key news stories of the Olympics: the underaged gymnasts of the Chinese national team. While commentators at the event spoke of their suspicions in sly, off-handed terms, Karolyi put the Chinese team on blast, calling them out on the air, without mincing words, for cheating. At a time when the network was treating the host nation with a great deal of deference, Karolyi's remarks drew attention, and, as it happened, led to revelations which backed his contention. Who knows? Had Karolyi not seized the moment, we might still be talking past the suspicions.
A man with passion, bravely speaking truth to power? What better host could Meet The Press ask for? Well...okay. Maybe a host with a somewhat intimate awareness of American politics.
Look. NBC? Please, please: find a place for Bela Karolyi. It would just be such a shame if we didn't hear from him for another four years.