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Friday, August 8, 2008


And now, for a taste of things to come...

• Here we go. We start with a montage of China landmarks and various athletes. Is this fluff? Nahh... this is the opening title segment. I'll let this one slide. There will be plenty of time for fluff later. Unfortunately.

"It's not the triumph, but the struggle," say a whole bunch of different athletes. Uh-huh. Which color medal is it again that they present for "struggle?"

• And the first person we see is... Jim Lampley? Where's Costas? Nothing against Jim, but the first person we see should be the A-Team. And we don't mean Hannibal, B.A. Baracus, Murdock, and Face.

• Jim says that the Chinese Opening ceremonies will rival anything Hollywood produces. Unless you count Spielberg, that is, who withdrew his creative input in the Games to protest the Chinese participation in Darfur. I'm just sayin'.

• Brokaw says it's time for the Chinese people to stand tall. Well, except the ones the government is beating down. Anyway, Tom gives us a history of how the Games got to China, and all of the news stories associated with it this year. This IS about China and the Olympics, but it's not events, so it's fluff. Be careful, Tom. I don't want to see a repeat of the last day of the 2006 Turin Games.

• NOW we get Costas, along with Matt Lauer, telling us all about the Opening Ceremonies which are coming up. Coming up 12 hours ago, that is. But hey, who's counting? We meet Joshua Cooper Ramo, NBC's China analyst, Andrea Joyce (interviewing beach volleyballers Misti May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh), and Bob Neumeier (with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James). So, beach volleyball and basketball. Now we know what NBC plans to focus on.

• The presidents come in (Bush and Jintao) and it begins. A fireworks flare shoots from the upper level of the Bird's Nest down toward the field where 2008 percussionists playing electric drums start pounding away. The drums light up as they strike them, and the effect is sort of like one of those flip card tricks they play with crowds in the Rose Bowl, except this is surely more expensive. All the drummers are wearing silver suits. This, of course, means they're from the future.

After forming a big electric drum countdown clock, the drummers whip out the glowing orange drumsticks. I've got to admit, seeing 2008 drummers playing big electric drums in perfect synchronicity is pretty cool. It all ends with a barrage of fireworks. Very nice.

• Wow, speaking of fireworks, it's hard to even describe this one. As a helicopter flies over Beijing toward the stadium, giant fireworks footprints explode over the city on a path leading to the Bird's Nest. It's very impressive.

• And now, flying people. Didn't we have that in Athens? Well, it was cool then, too. Here, some acrobats fly near a giant set of floating Olympic rings.

• A little girl sings! How precious. A bunch of other children carry in a flag. How precious. Then they hand it over to goosestepping soldiers. Not so precious, but then they are in China. Then everybody sings the Chinese national anthem. I can get behind that. Anyone who's read previous editions of the Olympic Watch knows that I like people to sing their anthem. Finally, more fireworks! You can't go wrong with those, either.

• Next a giant piece of paper unrolls and a bunch of breakdancers use their arms as paintbrushes to create a landscape painting. If this ever catches on in the U.S. I foresee a lot of defaced sidewalks.

• A bunch of people representing Confucius come out, and then a bunch of blocks rise up out of the middle of the floor. The announcers tell us this represents wind, but I think it just looks like we're all about to play a giant game of mahjong. It's a cool effect, though. It's like a giant version of that little 3-d map from the first X-Men movie. And inside all of these blocks? People, not hydraulics, says Bob. Impressive.

• Now a dancer rides on top of a carpet, being carried by several hundred others. What is the symbolism, asks Bob, of one person being on top, walking on everyone else being pushed under the rug? Well, maybe he didn't ask it quite like that. And it seems a little strange that China would want to emphasize "one over many" like that.

• A bunch of men with giant yellow oars come out and do some synchronized oar dancing. I don't think that's an Olympic sport, but I could be wrong. They do their thing underneath the image of the rolling ocean which is being projected on the giant membranes over the stadium. Do you notice how often I'm using the word "giant?" I'm sure the Chinese knew what they were doing in that regard.

Matt mentions something about how all 15,000 people seem to know exactly where to go, without wires or radios. Although I'm sure practice has something to do with it, perhaps Matt wasn't paying attention earlier when all of the electric drummers were wearing iPod-style headphones.

• Matt Lauer, please shut up. "This is a moment we have to ooo and ahh." Stop telling me how to feel, Matt.

• The presentation skips forward in history from the past to 1978, says Ramo. Funny that China took a great leap forward over the Great Leap Forward.

• Now a giant number of men are running around the stadium in formation wearing Christmas lights on their clothes. I know there's supposed to be some symbolism there, but that's what it looks like to me.

• The Chinese invented the kite, says Bob as a 9-year-old girl flies overhead. The scroll, paper, fireworks, the kite. Sure... but what have they invented in the LAST millenium, Bob?

• Tai Chi! Yeah... let's slow it down for the ladies.

• The projected images on the membrane! They're insane! Insane in the membrane! Insane in the brain!

• Says Matt, "If you like a dozen tai chi masters, how about 2008 of them?" Who's directing this, Peter Jackson?

• Matt's said more than once that all of these performers have no marks on the floor to guide them. I don't know what he's watching, but my HDTV clearly shows marks all over the floor. Maybe he needs to get out of the booth.

• ER has another season? Is that still on? Who knew?

• A (giant) ball rises up out of the floor, representing Earth, and a bunch of people run around it suspended by cables as we celebrate China's taikonauts. It sounds kinda stupid, but it really looks cool. And then, as Sarah Brightman and Chinese singer Liu Huan sing on top of the globe, more (giant) fireworks outside the Bird's Nest.

• Bob gushes that the show so far has been a stunning "achievement." Hmmm... "stunning" I will grant, but "achievement?" Tell you what, give me the $40 billion that the Chinese have spent on the Olympics and I'll bet I could put on a stunning show, too.

• The Parade of Nations! Greece starts, and then we're in alphabetical order by the CHINESE alphabet. Which means, you never know who's coming next, so you'd better pay attention.

• Turkmenistan's president personally approved their jackets. He should have studied harder. They got the Olympic rings wrong.

• Kudos for NBC here. Not only are they showing the population and number of athletes from each country, but they're also showing the flag and location, using a nifty little spinning 3d globe. They also have a ESPN-Bottom-Line-like graphic showing you which country is coming up next. Very nice.

• McDonalds. A team of losing kids gets mocked by the trophy-holding winners until the losers' parents show up with Happy Meals. The winners then look sad and drop their trophy. Is this the message we want to send our kids? "Yeah, you're a loser, kid. Have a cheeseburger."

• Bob has an interesting fact about Israel president, Shimon Peres. Peres has a hotel close to the stadium because the opening ceremonies will finish after midnight, which will be the Jewish Sabbath. Since it's against his religion to be driven on the Sabbath, he'll have to walk back to the hotel.

• As each country enters the stadium they're greeted by dancing Chinese cheerleaders. They walk around the stadium before passing through the middle, where they then walk over a paint-covered mat before leaving their footprints on a (giant) piece of paper. Their feet make multi-colored footprints. It's a very nice effect

• Cuba gets a big cheer. Commies cheering commies!

• Oh, Canada! The hosts of the next Olympics (2010 Vancouver) get dissed by Bob, who points out that Canada won zero golds in either Montreal (1976) or Alberta (1992). That's a cold shot, Bob.

• Iraq enters the stadium to a big cheer. George Bush claps. He should. Why else do you think they're there?

• Iran enters right after and gets booed. The Chinese aren't big fans of them either.

• Hungary's flag-bearer is Zoltan Halmay. Zoltan? Isn't that the thing that made Tom Hanks "Big?" Noooo... that's Zoltar. Never mind.

• More kudos for NBC. I know it's all in the preparation, but even with that knowledge it's still impressive how breezily Bob Costas can spill out facts about each country like he's just having a conversation in your living room. Although, I guess in one matter of speaking, he is.

• Equatorial Guinea enters and Bob and Matt talk about Eric Moussambani being one of the best stories of the Sydney Games, because he could just barely swim. Look, I'm a great believer in the spirit of competition, but a crowd giving pity cheers to a half-drowning swimmer isn't something I consider a great story.

• As Sudan enters, Bob and Matt talk about Joey Cheek. Cheek, the U.S. speedskater who won gold in Turin (Torino, if you're from NBC), has been protesting against the Chinese support of Sudan. In retaliation, the Chinese wouldn't grant him a visa to let him in the country to support the U.S. team. Bob rightly puts China on the spot for violating the Olympic spirit. Bad China! Bad!

• Matt comments on the cheerleaders, who have now been dancing for over an hour, but are as energetic as ever.

• Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, waves to his country's team as they enter. As far as I can tell, they all make it around the track without surrendering. Kidding! I kid!

• Russia enters. Vladimir Putin waves and manages not to shoot anyone. Russia, on the other hand spent this morning shooting Georgians. That's the Olympic spirit! Invade another country while everyone is watching the opening ceremonies!

• The United States enters and everyone cheers, including President and Laura Bush. At the beginning of the broadcast, Bob said that this was the first time an American president had attended an opening ceremonies outside of the U.S. I wonder why. A photo op like this should be a easy call for any president.

Of course, we stay with the U.S. longer than any other team. Why? Because they're you're team! This is not a bad thing, people. Assuming you're from the U.S., this is who you should be rooting for. It's not that hard.

• Zimbabwe enters the stadium. By the time they circle the track, all of the Zimbabwean dollars in their pockets have become worthless. Thanks, Robert Mugabe!

• Egypt enters, but none of their athletes like an Egyptian.

• The cameras cut to the U.S. team walking across the colored stamp pad in the middle of the infield. That painting is filling in nicely.

• The Netherlands arrives, which gives Bob his first chance to reference Pieter van den Hoogenband. Pieter van den Hoogenband! Pieter van den Hoogenband! Ahh... I'm already in 2004 form.

• Georgia enters, and Vladimir Putin manages not to shoot any of them. However, we never actually see them make it all the way around the track, so you never know.

• As other international athletes get their picture taken with Kobe Bryant in the infield, Matt lets us know that there's been a digital camera revolution. Thanks for the tip, Matt. Maybe later he can tell us about the internets. I hear it's a series of tubes.

• Ooooo.... Matt scores! While Portugal enters, he and Bob have a discussion about the Olympic "ideal," and Matt says that "it's not the triumph, it's the struggle." Way to work in NBC's catchphrase, Matt!

• Cameroon enters and it makes me want cookies. Oh wait... that's macaroons. Never mind.

• North Korea enters, and all of them manage to make it around the track without starving to death or nuking anyone. You know, Kim Jong Il invented the Olympics. He had to... he was so ronery and sadry arone.

• Mongolia overruns the Beijing stadium! Oh wait, there's not enough of them. They did make it past the Great Wall, though. You know, for such a celebrated landmark, it's really quite a failure.

• That was 16 minutes of programming without a commercial break. Very nice. We should be getting close to the torch lighting. I've already made my prediction about how that's going to happen. We'll see if I'm right. Hopefully I'm not.

• Bob lets us know in advance that the reception for the Chinese team will be not just enthusiastic, but ecstatic. Really? I never would have expected the home team to get an ecstatic reception, Bob.

• Matt cites statistics saying that the German team has been slipping in the medal count, so they'll be resorting to East German training tactics. Egad! They DO have some manly-looking women.

• And now, China. 91,000 people boo! Psh! Right. Of COURSE they cheer as Yao Ming leads the China team into the Bird's Nest. I dunno... they seem pretty enthusiastic, but I don't know if they're ecstatic.

• Ooo... a SkyCam shot over the crowd! That was pretty cool.

• The Office. Slapface. Oh yes.

• The footprint painting now becomes a podium for all of the higher-ups to use in their official pronouncements.

• The Chinese Olympic rep says this should be a "green" Olympics. That's pretty big talk for a country where it's common to wear respiratory masks.

• Wow. Some of these Chinese fans are so ecstatic that they look bored!

• Hu Jintao opens the games by shooting a Tibetan dissident! Ha! Just kidding! Instead, they open with a spectacular fireworks burst over the Bird's Nest.

• Ladies and gentlemen! The Olympic flame! I think we can safely assume that no protestors will be here to try to snuff this one out.

• The torch makes its usual lap around the stadium, passing from sports star to sports star until it reaches the final man who... WHOOSH! He's all cabled up and zooming to the sky! He's Livin' On A Prayer!

So Chinese Bon Jovi starts rising toward the membrane and... OH NO! Did the torch go out?! No, no, no... it just looked that way. It's still lit. Now he's at the membrane and... AHHH! HE'S FALLING! No, no, no... that was on purpose. Now he's fake-running as the cables whisk him around the stadium. So is Mr. Livin' On A Prayer all the way around yet? No, he's halfway there.

Sorry. Couldn't help myself.

• "I wonder how long it took him to train for this," says Matt. What? Holding a torch and fake running? I'm guessing it wasn't that hard.

• Although pretty, the run around the stadium takes entirely too long. Finally, Chinese Bon Jovi reaches the appeared-from-nowhere torch, which looks like a (giant) coiled spiral of stainless steel. He lights a fuse in front of him and a trail of sparks spirals around the torch, setting it ablaze. At the same time, every square block in the entirety of Beijing explodes into a spray of fireworks. Literally. It's... well, amazing. And if it looks this spectacular on TV, I can only imagine what it looks like if you're actually there. Of course, this is only going to add to their poor air quality, but what a way to go.

So, an impressive start. Only eight minutes of fluff. But then, the really hard-core among you could argue that all of the Opening Ceremonies are fluff. Take that naysaying elsewhere, mister, or we'll sic the Chinese authorities on you. And that's really unfair to them, given that they really need to spend all their time cracking down on other protestors.

A note for the next three days: On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I'll be out of town. I will have a laptop with me and I will be doing some short updates, but I won't be going into the full detail that I will for the remaining 13 days of the Beijing Olympics. So you've been warned. Still, the Opening Ceremonies were very entertaining, and I'm excited. Join me, won't you, for an overdose of Olympic goodness! See you tomorrow!

On to Saturday, August 9