Thursday, June 28
Why can't America's Game be live -- in America?

By Ray Ratto
Special to

Today's latest quarter-turn toward hell must be Bud Greenspan's fault.

Greenspan is the guy who has made all those Olympic film documentaries celebrating the Games in all their Gothic glory, and by most assessments are pretty good landmarks in film assemblage.

Somehow, though, his work has apparently baffled some people who should know better into thinking that the word "live" in "live sporting event" is apparently superfluous.

You folks east of Loughlin, Nev., probably won't care about this much, but it seems that the owners and general managers of NBC's army of West Coast affiliates have convinced the network to show much of the 2002 Winter Games on a tape delayed basis.

The 2002 Winter Games, which will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Not Salt Lake City, Japan, or Salt Lake City, Australia, or Salt Lake City, Ukraine. Salt Lake City, Utah.

And one of those general managers explained the wisdom of the decision this way: "The Olympics isn't so much a sporting event as it is an unfolding drama."

This is, of course, utter crap, but it is crap that can only be explained as a function of the efficacy of Greenspan's work.

Unless, of course, this is about the sanctity of local evening television programming.

That's as in the local news ("Prize Hog Wins Primary, To Run For Vacant Congressional Seat in November"), epics of the broadcasting art like "Judge Judy" ("I find for the plaintiff and condemn the defendant to hell for all eternity, plus court costs") and "Jeopardy" ("What are, 'Accordion Playing Goats,' Alex").

We wouldn't want to think that men and women of such high moral and ethical fiber would put station profits ahead of what is allegedly the most watched sporting event this side of the Super Bowl. I mean, who would want the figure skating finals to be thought of as good follow-up programming to "Oprah?"

So it must be Bud Greenspan's work fooling these people into thinking that film is better than live, a year later is better than right now, and that "Jenny Jones" is better than the hockey gold medal game.

Plainly, a case of a man doing his job too well.

Now I grant you that we may not be giving enough credit to the power of pure ignorant venality, especially in the world of local television, where pure ignorant venality gets you local Emmys and an eventual trip to Corporate.

And we may be missing the essential truth that people prefer watching people allegedly just like them eating live rats and backstabbing other contestants for money to, say, skiing down a mountain until the G-forces pull off your cheeks.

But ours is a noble world, untouched by such concerns as the demands of Mammon. Nobody in the world of corporate television would ever put the needs of "Entertainment Tonight" ahead of entertainment for the globe.

Never, ever, ever.

Thus, the plainly absurd notion that an American Olympics should be shown on tape in America rather than as it happens can only be viewed as creeping Greenspan-ism, a step closer to taping and editing the entire Games to fit into a three-night, nine-hour format, like most miniseries featuring Meredith Baxter-Birney as the beleaguered doctor, professor, lawyer, TV newswoman and mother of 11 solving grisly murders after she puts the kids to bed. Also starring Maureen Stapleton, Richard Belzer and Carrot Top as the wacky neighbor.

So thanks heaps, Bud. For years of cinematic tours-de-force, and for making your work so digestible to 15-watt bulbs like those TV execs that they can compartmentalize the Olympics into a neat package that won't impinge on the 11 p.m. news ("Local Pig Caught In Farm Brothel Sting, Drops Out Of Election, But First The Weather With Kip Kippington").

This may not actually be your fault, Bud, but if we can't blame you, we'd have to blame the West Coast TV people, and frankly, what's the sport in that?

Besides, we may need them for the new reality show, "Jars Of Honey And Red Ant Hills." Coming next fall to NBC.

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to

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