Costas on Olympics disaster fears: ‘Fingers crossed’ – Entertainment Weekly

Moreso than any Olympics in modern history, the lead-up to the Summer Games in Rio has yielded one disaster headline after another: doping scandals, Zika virus alerts, terrorism fears, unfinished venues, fecal matter-filled waters, local violence, and even a dead jaguar.

But when NBC had its Olympics panel at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, executive producer Jim Bell, host Bob Costas, and correspondent Mary Carillo seemed to prefer to keep the focus elsewhere, framing the network’s Rio coverage as a respite from America’s problems.

“Back home in the States, there have been months and months of sad stories, political pie fights,” Carillo said. “I think America is ready to cheer on not only the Americans but everybody else for a couple weeks to get some relief from all of that and to watch really uplifting stories. To me, that is the very best part of the Olympics.”

Uplifting stories are certainly NBC’s typical Olympics fare. But perhaps never before have NBC’s glossy portraits of athletes seemed so at odds with the rest of the media world’s coverage of the games. So reporters quizzed the panel on whether the network’s Olympics coverage would reflect the troubles that have been reported elsewhere.

Bell points out that every Olympics has had some concerns going into the games that don’t manifest as issues during the games, and he hoped that would be the case here. “It is not a new narrative,” he said. “Heading into virtually every Olympics, that is the storyline coming in. And then the athletes get here. The energy arrives. The torch gets lit. And, you know, for 17 days and nights, that’s what we are focused on. But should it be a story while we are here… we’ll cover it.”

Agreed Costas: “We have our fingers crossed that there won’t be a security issue. And something like Zika, the outcome of that is something you’d have to track months down the road because —even if someone is infected — the outcome of that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent during the weeks we are televising the Olympics.”

However, Costas did acknowledge that some risk exists for athletes, particularly in water sports. “One thing for certain [is that] every bit of competition that takes place on open water — marathon swimming, sailing — you’ve got to talk about the condition of the water. These athletes are dealing with it, and in some cases, the best they’ve been told is, ‘Try to keep your mouth closed.’ That’s rather difficult when you are swimming even in your backyard pool, let alone in open water, or, ‘Don’t put your head under the water.’ So I guess some new techniques will be required. I’m not trying to be facetious here, but it’s going to be impossible in some cases not to address some of the issues that have come up before the Olympics, because they will directly intersect with the competition.”

One critic pressed the panel on whether NBC should have pushed for the International Olympic Committee to change cities once Rio’s litany of problems became apparent.

“The Olympics were going to happen,” Costas said. “You can make an argument — I don’t know if it would be a persuasive argument — that the IOC should have, in light of the problems as they emerged several months ago, considered either moving or postponing the games. But once the games were being held, the network that owned the rights to televise those games was going to televise those games… We plan to not just acknowledge but frame all of these issues before the games begin. … It would certainly be my expectation that we would not shy away from that.”

Added Bell: “You could probably make the case that Zika is a bigger story in Florida than in Brazil, or certainly in Rio, where it is technically winter and much cooler and drier. So is Disneyland responsible for bringing people to Florida now?”

Carillo noted she’s going to cover open water swimming for a couple days.

Costas asked, “Do you plan to take a dip yourself?”

Carillo answered, “Absolutely not.”

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