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NBC Picks Johnson’s Shining Moment to Shine Itself

August 2, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Michael Johnson handed NBC perhaps its most golden moment of the Summer Olympics Thursday night, and all the golden boys of NBC were there to help document it.

NBC Sports’ Olympic control room roster included division president Dick Ebersol, executive producer Tommy Roy, senior vice president Peter Diamond and more, some 20 people in all crowded in front of the bank of televisions.

It was one of NBC’s best moments in an up-and-down Olympics. As recently as Monday night, when Carl Lewis won his ninth Olympic gold medal by capturing the long jump, NBC seemed almost to brush it off.

But, in the men’s 200, a sprint where all attention can be focused in 20 ticks of the clock, NBC took it’s time with Johnson as he became the first man to double in the 400 and 200.

Scripts were being changed on the fly, and it looked like an exercise in controlled pandemonium in the control room as Johnson planted his golden-shod feet in the blocks. NBC weatherman Al Roker passed through.

On the left side of the bank of TV monitors, two were focused on the New York control room, where tension was building, as well.

The gun sounded, the runners flashed by, and Johnson drew off as though he were running alone.

``And here comes Michael Johnson,″ Tom Hammond said. ``They’re approaching the top of the straightaway. Michael Johnson is reaching deep. ... Michael Johnson. Running for gold. ... And into Olympic history.″

A cheer went up in the control room.

``A new Olympic record,″ Craig Masback said. ``He set a world record. He destroys his old record!″

NBC’s cameras stayed with Johnson, milking the moment, capturing the amazement in Johnson’s face as he and the crowd learned that he had just run the 200 in 19.32, a world record, by a lot.

``He has a shorter stride, 3-6 inches shorter,″ Masback said as NBC ran its first replay. A second replay isolated Johnson, and it became apparent about that time that NBC was going to miss the first half of the first round of the diving. This was too good to leave, though.

When NBC came back from commercial, it showed a shot of Johnson with the American flag draped over the scoreboard, framing his record time. Cris Collinsworth had the microphone in front of Johnson.

``Anywhere else I would have run 19.6, 19.5,″ Johnson said. ``I’ve never run in front of a crowd like this.″

NBC then went to yet a third replay, isolating Johnson in the starting blocks, where he said he had had trouble. A moment later, the scene returned to Bob Costas in the studio, and NBC had produced one of its finest moments of the games.

OUT TAKES: Coaches plead, athletes gripe, politicians lobby, and even NBC’s own announcers are beginning to wonder: Where the heck are all the other sports at the Summer Olympics?

On the Thursday morning ``Today″ show, co-host Bryant Gumbel called boxing ``the untold story of the Olympics.″ So, who’s doing the untelling, anyway? Must be NBC, unless the IOC has dropped the sport.

And that would be news to the six Americans already in the semifinals.

``Please, NBC, take a look at these guys,″ assistant U.S. boxing coach Pat Burns pleaded earlier in the week.

NBC has promised more boxing coverage during the gold medal round.

When the U.S. baseball team was coming back from a 10-2 deficit to lose a 10-8 thriller to Cuba on Sunday, where was NBC? That was a heavy gymnastics night, and the first day of track and field.

And when the U.S. women’s softball team, one of the world’s great dynasties, won the gold medal Tuesday night, where was NBC? Oh, that was the gymnastics gala exhibition night. No way NBC was going to miss that woman rolling around on a beach ball.

``Should we win, I think USA baseball would get a lot of credit in the Olympics,″ said U.S. coach Skip Bertman, who has been an outspoken critic of NBC’s program selection.

``Even with that, baseball still doesn’t get it’s due in the Olympics, and the reason is it doesn’t fit the TV box. Baseball takes three hours and it can rain. Oh, it’s so bad for TV.″

That’s not quite true. There’s beeen at least one word.

Outside of a few minutes of highlights, both men’s and women’s soccer have been pretty much abandoned by NBC, as well. NBC promised it would have four or five ``significant look-ins″ during the women’s gold medal game between the United States and China Thursday night. NBC went to the first look-in at about 9:15 p.m. EDT, showing the U.S. women’s first goal, tape delayed by about 10 minutes. ...

NBC is not alone in enjoying unprecedented ratings for its coverage of the Summer Games. The CBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, also is getting record numbers of viewers, at least a few of which are defectors from NBC.

CBC is showing about 14 hours of Olympics each day, about 75 percent of which is live event coverage.

``We have a very large satellite audience, as well as a cable audience in places like Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, northern Minneosta and Vermont,″ CBC Sports executive producer Doug Sellars said. ``Obviously, they want to see some Americans in competition, and some of the events we show have Americans in them, so they’re able to get a jump and see them live.″

Sellars said there is no way to measure exactly how many Americans are watching the CBC, ``although I’m sure our sales people would love to have those numbers.″

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