As I usually watch Winter Olympic coverage between 10 and 11pm, I am thrilled by the performances and unintentionally humored by much of the goings-on.
There’s something about the sleek uniforms and body motions of speed skaters, downhill skiers, and ski jumpers that suggests modernism and daring, sharp risk-taking. The uniforms have relied more uniformly on a smart assemblage of colors, and less on gaudy graphics. Even the curlers look rather smart, especially the British in their black-pants-white-shirt down-to-business attire. By the way, I could watch curling all day.
In general, I dislike any event that is judged for artistic flair. There are some judged events, as in the spirit of gymnastics, that require judges to monitor the successful completion of a remarkable athletic move. Some of the snowboarding tricks might warrant that (I’d like it more if they were in sleek, modernist space suits rather than their faux-flannel and jeans get-up). Some ice skating feats warrant it. But music and make-up is where I draw the line. Most judged events cause me serious eye-rolling. Freestyle skiing, ice dancing, figure skating, etc. I’m interested in games, not drama.
But clearly, given the broadcast and cable networks’ reliance on judged reality programs and viewers passive acceptance of such programing, it makes sense that NBC loves the judged aesthetic olympic events. Todays Times as a great piece about crying and figure skating. It provides a little history of the “kiss and cry” area that’s been facilitated, if not purposely constructed, by networks.
broadcasters like NBC, which will cover the ice dancing free skate Monday and the women’s final Thursday at the Winter Games, are happy to capture the moment. No doubt it has played a role in figure skating’s status as a ratings powerhouse for the Olympics.
“For the skaters, it could be a few minutes of torture,” said David Michaels, a senior producer for NBC’s Olympics coverage and the network’s director for figure skating. “It’s good for us.
“It’s such a big part of our coverage now. It’s gone from a blue curtain and a bucket of flowers on the side to plastic ice sculptures and crazy sets. It’s become a big design element that everyone works hard to figure out.”
Michaels said that the event organizers were in charge of designing the kiss-and-cry area, but that NBC reviewed those plans. The network often adjusts the lighting to make it look more realistic and less like a TV set, he said, adding that one of NBC’s cameras is attached to a small crane that swoops into the kiss-and-cry from above.
When the Olympics were first televised worldwide in the 1960s, the set was much simpler, with no formal place for skaters to wait for their scores. A reporter and a camera operator would often catch them as they stepped off the ice.
At the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., the off-ice area was spruced up with foliage, producers said. By the 1984 Sarajevo Games, a formal area with a bench appeared. The 1988 Calgary Games unveiled a major set, with a designed backdrop and lights.
Though different producers have different recollections of the way the kiss-and-cry area got its name, the gist of it is that someone at a network said: ‘This is the place where the skaters kiss, this is the place where skaters cry. It’s the kiss-and-cry!” By the early ’90s, the name had stuck, said Doug Wilson, the longtime producer and director at ABC who orchestrated that network’s figure skating coverage for more than 40 years.
As if figure skating needed more emasculation. I imagine figure skating without costumes, hairspray, or music – just the athleticism that’s already there under the soon-to-be-smudged make-up. It could be thrilling. But it also might bring smaller audiences here in the U.S. Evan Lysacek’s coach is quoted with a memorable line:
“I kept wanting to say, ‘Stop it, just stop it,’ ” his coach, Frank Carroll, said. “I’m very stoic in a way, very disciplined, and I think, when the ski jumpers, when they win, they don’t start to cry. Let’s put it this way: I don’t like figure skaters to cry.”
I want to stay “stop it” to NBC.