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NBC Captures Opening Ceremony Spectacle

July 20, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ In a splash of color and drama that television producers and directors must dream about, NBC celebrated the start of the Olympic Games with an opening ceremonies show that spread over nearly five hours of air time.

No one could complain about a show that began well before sunset Friday night and ended early this morning after Muhammad Ali’s dramatic igniting of the Olympic flame. Watching Ali, suffering from Parkinson’s syndrome, shake uncontrollably as he took the torch from Olympian Janet Evans was a poignant moment in an uplifting evening.

Co-hosts Bob Costas and Dick Enberg provided just the right blend of information and insight and the production did the rest of the work. With director John Gonzalez letting the pictures tell the story, it was the perfect beginning for the games.

NBC went on the air at 8 p.m., 45 minutes before the ceremonies began. That was a long warmup but Costas and Enberg filled it comfortably, sometimes with conversation, sometimes with feature segments.

Costas opened the broadcast by noting that these are the Centennial Olympics. ``No birthday party ever had an invitation list quite like this,″ he said.

Or one as long, either.

There were athletes of 197 nations to march into the stadium, and the procession wasn’t always orderly. When gaps caused some delegations to break into a full trot to catch up, NBC covered it as a news story, a touch of journalism in the midst of an entertainment extravaganza.

Enberg turned a nice phrase when he called these games the defining moments for athletes, ``from the threadbare to the millionaire.″

Later, he fell back on his time-tested ``Oh, my!″ when the cameras showed the brilliant Georgia sunset.

NBC’s cameras spent a lot of time showing President Clinton, wearing a red, white and blue tie. There were closeups of Clinton singing the national anthem and then grinning broadly as the traditional Southern greeting, ``How y’all doin’?″ was spelled out by performers on the stadium field.

Then he was shown participating in an enthusiastic ``wave″ that made its way around the stadium.

When the Goodyear blimp provided aerial shots, its logo was covered because of Olympic regulations. NBC solved that by showing the rubber company’s logo in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. The overhead shots gave a good flavor of the size and scope of the event.

As the infield filled with athletes, it became a sea of colors that provided NBC with striking pictures.

During the parade of athletes, when Argentina’s delegation marched in, Costas noted that its basketball team was ``Appetizer No. 1 on the Dream Team’s menu. They meet tomorrow.″

Eventually, though, tomorrow became today.

As the U.S. athletes streamed in, Clinton stood in his box and waved. The athletes’ exhilaration resembled the mood of closing ceremonies. ``What a scene!″ Enberg said.

Closeups often picked out key athletes in the parade, a nice touch that introduced some otherwise anonymous competitors to the viewers. NBC broke up the monotony of the long parade by dropping in interviews from the staging area with athletes like Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, and Dream Teamers Anfernee Hardaway and Charles Barkley.

Faced with a dilemma of how to handle the tragedy of the TWA jetliner explosion, the network chose to bring in Tom Brokaw, anchor of the NBC Nightly News, at the start of its show to report on the status of the investigation.

Costas reminded viewers that NBC would have a news presence throughout the games to report on developments.

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