Our Daily Dread: Officially, NBC has jumped the giant inflatable beaver on Olympic coverage

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When Conan O’Brien did his final “Tonight” show for NBC, Neil Young was one of the guests and did a nice souful rendition of “Long May You Run.”

When the Vancouver Olympics ended Sunday night, on NBC, Young ran through that song again.

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There’s gotta be a connection there. Especially if one of those network Olympic fact-checkers started connecting some dots on Young’s background.

Neil Percival Young, born on November 12, 1945, in Toronto, is the son of Scott Young, a sportswriter who moved the family to that city in Ontario, Canada to pursue a sports journalism career. At the age of 18, in 1936, Scott Young worked at the Winnipeg Free Press and was soon reporting on sports. He moved the family to Toronto to cover sports for the Canadian Press news agency. He took assignments for Sports Illustrated. He started a column at the Globe & Mail. He became the sports editor for the Toronto Telegram was was a host on “Hockey Night in Canada” until Toronto Maple Leafs co-owner John Bassett got them to fire Young from the broadcast.

Eight years after he helped former Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe write his autobiography, Scott Young received the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award in 1988 from the Hockey Hall of Fame as selected by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. He died in 2005 at age 87.

So what we’re saying: Would Neil Young’s dad have approved of the way NBC watered down these Canadian Olympics and turned them into one giant network promo?

We’re in the middle of watching the three-hour delayed closing ceremonies on Sunday night, when Bob Costas gets excited a bit about the inflatable giant beavers that came out tethered to some lumberjacks in costume. But since 10:30 p.m. was soon coming, NBC had another plan — hijack the coverage with the debut episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s “The Marriage Ref.” Hey, why not!

Without even going to a commercial, Costas led the Olympic audience into this half-hour faux reality show, then to the local news, then informed us that NBC would resume the closing ceremonies at 11:30 p.m.

Like that’s a surprise?

(Actually, I’m glad they presented “The Marriage Ref” the way they did. Now, after having it force-fed following an endless amount of promos on it, I will definitely not make it appointment TV to watch. It comes on the prime Thursday night lineup, but I know when to stop watching — after “30 Rock.” The show is horrifically bad and even a promise of Madonna appearing on a future episode makes me want to turn away ASAP from this trainwreck and only reinforces that decisions made these days by programmers at NBC are done so after a massive ingestment of crack cocaine.)

We didn’t stay up long enough to see the rest of the closing ceremony … perhaps they included the swearing-in ceremony of two new members of the International Olympic Committee chosen by their fellow athletes — including U.S. hockey player Angela Ruggiero. Probably, they didn’t.

From the start — and congruent to anything NBC has done with the Winter or Summer Games since they decided to outbid ABC for their rights after 1988 — these were not about sports, but about sports-related programming attempting to appeal to the lowest-common demonized denominator.

We’re having another flashback to Saturday afternoon. We’re watching women’s team speedskating. Suddenly, Tom Brokaw joins Al Michaels in the studio to grovel through a story he did on some people in a city named Gander, New Foundland … believe me, you don’t need to know who they are.
It went for more than 40 minutes, interrupted twice by commercials. Any remnant of a sporting event that NBC was covering turned into an episode of “The Today” show, from 4:30 to nearly 6 p.m.

Saturday night, that figure skating exhibition that took place seemed to be a perfect illustration of what NBC did in its biannual hijacking of these events — something that didn’t even have a medal at stake had been spotlighted at the prime-time event of the night. And even then, they failed.

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There were two U.S. American woman “competing” in this exhibition. NBC didn’t even show the routine by Arcadia’s Mirai Nagasu. Why? Maybe because they had to interrupt it for a Mary Carillo feature on — seriously — why Canadians are so funny, which included interviews with Martin Short, Caroline Rhea (host of NBC’s “Biggest Loser”) and Lorne Michaels (producer of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”).

Somehow sensing there may be a story behind this, KNBC-Channel 4 led its “news” coverage at 11 p.m. with a special report on why Nagasu’s routine was ignored — except it didn’t explain why, only that it happened, without reaction from unhappy Southern California viewers. KNBC had promoted Nagasu’s routine with another “news” story the night before, featuring her Pasadena-based choreographer working with Nagasu in Vancover via a Skype connection.

The biggest loser, again, in NBC’s Olympic coverage was anyone unfortunate enough to live in the Pacific Time Zone, in a parallel universe to what was going on in Vancouver.

Did L.A. pay attention to NBC’s coverage. Yes and no.

The 27.6 million (15.2 rating and 30 share) who watched Canada win the men’s hockey gold-medal game live on NBC Sunday at noon turned out to be the most-watched hockey game in 30 years — going back to the 1980 Lake Placid Games, when the U.S. defeated Finland for the gold medal (two days after beating the Russians in the “Miracle on Ice” — a game that was viewed on tape delay drawing 34.2 million average viewers, with a 23.9 rating and 37 share).

Add to that some 16.6 million Canadian viewers — nearly half the entire population of the country — who watched it live on nine television networks in eight languages via Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium.

NBC press also notes that the 27.6 million viewers topped the recent Grammy Awards (25.9 mil), the recent Rose Bowl (24 mil, the 2009 World Series top-rated game (22.8 mil for Game 4), the ’09 NCAA basketball championships (17.6 mil) and the most-watched ’09 NBA Finals game (16 mil for Game 4).

The market with the biggest audience for the U.S.-Canada final: Buffalo (32.6/51), the NHL home of U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller. Pittsburgh, the NHL home to Canada’s Sidney Crosby, was second (31.9/50). The highest-rated West-Coast city was Seattle (No. 14 at 19.3/45).

Los Angeles limped in at 12.4/29, 48th ranked market.

(We were at Dodger Stadium Sunday for the USC-UCLA baseball game. The U.S.-Canada contest going on at the same time was on all the monitors in the horribly long food lines, so most who wanted a Dodger Dog — which became quickly scarce thanks to poor planning — got to see the hockey game more than the baseball game. When the U.S. tied the game late in the third period, a huge cheer went up. The baseball game actually stopped momentarily as the players didn’t know what was going on. So there were about 14,000 people paying attention to the hockey in L.A. who weren’t registered by the Neilsen ratings).

“We’ve been fortunate to have a front-row seat to observe a nation of fans that appreciates winter sports, is proud of their winter sport heritage and celebrates success – no matter which country wins – so it was only fitting yesterday when Sidney Crosby scored the goal to give Canadians the gold that meant so much to this country,” said NBC Sports and Olympics chief Dick Ebersol in another prepared self-congradulatory statement.

Ebersol also was quoted as saying: “It’s important to note how truly dominant our performance is because of the many choices available in the world today.”

We, on this coast, have been unfortunate to have NBC pretend to care about us.

Mark our words — when the 2012 Summer Games from London come rolling up on NBC in two years, we will be part of a U.S. TV boycott if it’s not live. With so many choices in the world today, that’s what we choose.

We understand the time logistics — but guess what, we wake up early every summer to watch the finals at Wimbledon. On NBC. Because it’s a large enough sporting event that matters.

When will NBC get that?

Hopefully, never. Because then someone else — ESPN, Fox, anyone — will secure the rights, figure out how to serve the sports audience, and move forward instead of staying in this ratings fantasy world that Ebersol continues to exist in.

If the XFL could once be a live event on NBC, why not the Olympics? Ask the giant inflatable beaver about that one. And Neil Young’s dad. Or that clown who finally figured out how to connect the power to the failed Olympic cauldron.

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