Welcome to Beijing!
August 4, 2008 3:36 PM
Greetings from 35,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean around 5 hours into a 12-hour journey to Beijing and the Summer Olympic Games, which begin at 08.08.08 at 8 PM.
These are my 9th Olympic Games. My first experience was for a camp trip in 1976 to Montreal where the city spent over $2 billion and it took the Montrealers decades to get out of debt. For these games the Chinese have spent $40 billion alone on Olympic venues, that's more than adjusted for inflation.
I am a huge Olympic fan having grown up watching the Games on ABC with Roone Arledge at the controls. My first memories were the 1968 Mexico City Games followed then by the tragic Munich Games of 1972. I was 12 at the time and will never forget the late, great Jim McKay bringing us the news, "they’re all gone," as the Israeli athletes were senselessly murdered by Palestinian terrorists in, of all places, Germany.
I also recall my first real sense of patriotism every time an American won and my first sense of sporting outrage and frustration when the USA lost to the Soviet Union in "our game," basketball, in one of the most bizarre and controversial endings in sports history. I believe the reason I went into TV was due to my fascination with the Olympic Games.
So 20 years after the '72 games, in 1992, a dream I had as a kid came true when I worked my first Olympic Games in Albertville, France, for CBS Sports. I went on to work at the '94 games in Lillehammer, Norway, also for CBS. After that, I left sports but still loved the Games—going to Atlanta, then Salt Lake City right after 9-11 with my wife, and then Athens, Greece and Torino, Italy... all 3 for Access.
My most memorable Olympics, and they are all memorable though, was 1980 Lake Placid, NY ... Cold War America not feeling good about ourselves, similar to today, and then out of nowhere, and only sports can do this, a group of young upstart Americans strung together the performances of their lives and stunned the world with the "Miracle on Ice." I was there with my dad and brother and can still hear the crowd chanting "USA, USA," as goalie Jim Craig skated around the ice draped in the American flag searching for his dad in the crowd.
So, I am armed with some great Olympic memories and knowledge as I head to the historic Beijing Games. Whenever I tell people I am going to the Games they ask, are you taking your wife and kids? What events are you going to? I tell them… no wife, no kids, hopefully some events if I have time. I then explain I am taking the show Access Hollywood to the Games. They ask, why is Access Hollywood hosting the show from the Olympics? Are there any stars going?
My answer "yes." For 17 days beginning Friday the 8th, the Olympic athletes will be the stars of prime-time TV. 30 million Americans a night will tune into parts of 1,200 hours of coverage over the networks of NBC Universal. Instead of learning about Miley Cyrus on Access, you'll get to know the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time, Michael Phelps, who has a 6 foot, 7 inch wing span as he goes for a record 8 gold medals.
On Access Hollywood you'll get to know what he does and what he likes away from the pool—does he have a girlfriend? You’ll get to know his family and his musical tastes (he loves hip hop) and all the info we normally bring about Hollywood stars, we'll bring you about Olympic stars.
The Olympics, more than anything, is a TV event. The grandest of them all, dwarfing the awards shows. The Super Bowl for one collective day is bigger but nothing compares over time to the Olympic Games. Some of the stars we'll feature, besides Phelps, include China's biggest star (not just in height), the 7 ft, 6 inch tall Yao Ming. We are anticipating billboards of him all over Beijing (capitalism is alive and thriving in this communist country).
41-year-old swimmer Dara Torres. Softball beauty Jennie Finch, and her softball teammate Lovieanne Jung, the 2nd baseman who was named after “Gilligan's Island” characters Lovey Howell (you remember "the millionaire and his wife", Lovey is his wife) and Mary Anne. Gymnastics will be a staple in primetime so expect to see 2 of the world’s best—Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin. Reese Hoffa, an American shot putter, says he can solve a Rubik’s Cube in 45 seconds, so we will put him to the test just like we did Will Smith (who pulled it off!).
The stories will be endless—will we have another Mary Lou, Nadia or Olga? And, if we do, NBC will show you their performance and Access Hollywood might take them shoe shopping. So, sit back and enjoy. In a fractured TV world this is one event that can unify a family and maybe even a country—at least for 17 days!