NBC's Edit Of Olympics Opening Ceremony Draws Ire

NBC has been criticized for its decision to edit out a portion of Friday's Olympics opening ceremony. Instead of showing a dance performance that some say was a tribute to the victims of London's terror attacks, NBC aired an interview with Michael Phelps. Audie Cornish talks with David Folkenflik about the decision.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

NBC is catching some heat for the way it edited its broadcast of the Olympics' opening ceremony last Friday. In between the fireworks, dancing nurses and parade of athletes, most viewers around the world saw a memorial tribute which many, including this BBC commentator, connected to the July 7, 2005 terror attacks in London.

HAZEL IRVINE: Yes, the excitement of that moment in Singapore seven years ago, when London won the Games, was tempered with great sorrow the very next day with events on the 7th of July that year.

CORNISH: Dancers took the stage before a nearly silent stadium while Scottish pop star, Emeli Sande, sang the hymn "Abide with Me."

EMELI SANDE: (Singing) Abide with me. Fast falls the eventide...

CORNISH: Instead, U.S. watchers were treated to a short interview between NBC's Ryan Seacrest and American swimmer Michael Phelps. Over the weekend, word got out about the part we missed. And now, NBC is facing questions of editorial judgment.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now to talk about what happened. And, David, first tell us a little bit more about this performance.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: It started off with this montage of these faces of people of all ages and all ethnic descents, people who were not able to be there. In a sense, it was clearly a kind of memorial tribute to people not able to join for the excitement of the Olympics. You saw the pictures, then you saw this burst of fire, and interpretive dance playing out on the stage at the center of the stadium.

In this one element of the larger opening ceremonies, what was known about it was interesting. Because the BBC announcer, you know, did talk about this in the context of the 7/7 attacks in 2005. And yet, at the same time, the material distributed to various broadcasters, including NBC, made no mention of this being an explicit memorialization of those very victims; that there was a sense of this more universal theme of the question of recognition mourning and honoring.

CORNISH: So how did NBC end up explaining its decision to cut the whole performance out of the broadcast for American audiences?

FOLKENFLIK: What NBC publicly said over the weekend, a spokesman issued a statement saying that he said, quote, "Our programming is tailored for the U.S. audience." And they noted - look, the network took a lot of Danny Boyle's hours' long opening ceremony that included a lot of dance, included a tribute to the Industrial Revolution - some of which may have seemed a little esoteric to an American audience. They wanted to make sure they could find a window where they could interview such noted Americans figures, as Michael Phelps.

Privately, folks at NBC say we did not know this was intended as a tribute to 7/7 as the BBC announcer indicated. Over the weekend, the choreographer of that element, a guy named Akram Khan, took real exception to NBC's decision. He wondered, you know, what made this not worthy of televising.

CORNISH: Now, why do you think NBC is catching so much heat for this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, NBC has effectively paid so much money for the rights to the Olympics that it's - think of it as a co-owner of the Olympic Games. There's right now this hashtag on Twitter called #NBCFail. And it's not simply over this issue. It's actually a lesser issue than the frustration people have felt.

They felt frustration over the commercialism of the games; that is a corporate sponsors and advertisers. They've felt frustration over the fact that, you know, there's such a jingoistic emphasis on American athletes and those matches in which Americans are competitive for medals. And there's also frustration that NBC is keeping such a tight control over when, how, and on what platforms you can see the Olympic Games.

And for a lot of viewers here at home, who are used to watching what they want to watch when they want to watch it, how they want to watch it, that's a real source of real frustration.

CORNISH: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.