NBC's Vancouver Olympics Coverage Not Too Bad, Eh?

05/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As much as it pains this long-time newspaper TV critic to do so, I must admit that NBC did a pretty good job up here in Vancouver.

I blogged the Winter Olympics for Dow Jones' site. I watched a lot of NBC - and live Canadian - coverage.

And NBC, surprisingly did a decent, if somewhat uneven, job of covering the Vancouver Games. If nothing else, NBC gave Americans - generally clueless about their northern neighbor - a few more glimpses of Canada.

Some selected highs and lows of TV coverage:


--Gene Shalit's Today appearances, revitalizing Sasquatch-sighting web sites.

--NBC hired Dubya spawn Jenna Bush Hager. But it gave her an appropriate Today Show assignment, putting her on the airhead beat: Jenna went skateboarding with flaky U.S. Olympian Lindsey Jacobellis in - where else? - Telluride. (You expected the Poconos?).

--Today anchor Meredith Vieira was surprised to learn Avatar director James Cameron was a Canadian. (Today and NBC staffers putting together the anchors' cheat sheets blew it).

--The endless hype for Carrot Top impersonator Shaun White, also SI cover gal Lindsey Vonn, and soulpatched Apolo Ohno, the one-man corporation who now has his picture on an Alaska Airlines 737 and an endorsement deal for the Washington State Potato Commission.

--The dreadful, way-too-campy Opening and Closing Ceremonies, which didn't work on an entertainment level, let alone a cultural one.


--Stephen Colbert's crawling into the fake fireplace on NBC's prime-time set and cracking up anchor Bob Costas, who'd earlier climbed aboard a stuffed moose on Colbert's show.

--Tom Brokaw's short introductory piece on Canada. The Vancouver Sun sniffed that it was a "mini-lesson for Americans, Canada's chief significance lies in its likeness to the U.S... they're Just Like Us." The Sun added testily: "The only novelty here is that it was wrapped up in a series of Canadian picture-postcard shots."

Hold it, eh? The vast majority of Americans, this one-time Canadian resident knows all too well, can't even name Canada's capital or its Prime Minister. A quick survey course on Canada couldn't hurt. And Brokaw's long piece on the generosity of residents of Gander, Newfoundland, post-9/11 was also quite classy.

--In one of the Games' stranger coincidences, both the American and Canadian (CTV) networks' prime anchors have the same name. When NBC's clever Brian Williams met his counterpart on the large CTV set, the NBC Brian marveled at its size and said, "Do you get foot massages under this desk?" The Canadian Williams replied, "Only during commercial breaks."

--Also nice were feature pieces on a small Nova Scotia village, and a visit by the Today Show staff to B.C.'s other big city, provincial capital Victoria, which sits serenely 60 miles away, over on Vancouver Island.

--Americans' first glimpse at Canadian hockey-announcing legend Don Cherry, host of the host nation's revered Hockey Night on Canada on CBC-TV. The aging Canadian national institution (the Dick Clark of Canada?) opened NBC's broadcast of the thrilling U.S.-Canada gold-medal game, and yes, Cherry usually dresses like that. He looked like a Canadian night-club bouncer on acid.

Because of NBC, Vancouver now belongs to the world. I was hoping those of us in the Pacific Northwest who already love this vibrant, gorgeous and highly civilized city might keep it our little secret. But no such luck, eh?