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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne. NBC's coverage of the opening ceremonies for this summer's Beijing Olympics drew record ratings for the American network, an estimated 70 million viewers. But in at least one sequence, viewers who thought they were seeing real fireworks were watching computer-generated graphics. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik takes a look at the replay.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: So this is a bit embarrassing. Those ceremonies won stellar reviews. Tom Shales of the Washington Post wrote that it was one of the most visually beautiful evenings of television ever seen, and Shales said there were enough fireworks for 100 Fourths of July. Here was one of those moments, as NBC's Matt Lauer described video of fireworks shaped in the outlines of feet bursting into the night sky.

(Soundbite of NBC broadcast)

Mr. MATT LAUER (Television Host): You're looking now at the footsteps of history quite literally coming from the old center of Beijing near Tiananmen Square.

FOLKENFLIK: Well no, not quite literally. Those vivid fireworks were really computer graphics created by a team of hundreds of Chinese visual-effects specialists who worked nearly a year to pull it off.

The local Beijing Times, which first revealed it, said there was even a slight camera shake introduced to make it seem as though the footage came from a real helicopter flying above. Lauer did hint that to see was not entirely to believe.

(Soundbite of NBC broadcast)

Mr. LAUER: You're looking at a cinematic device employed by Zhang Yimou here. This is actually almost animation.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, again, not almost. It is a form of animation, even though there were real fireworks in the Beijing sky that night, but on television, you would've seen the computer graphics. NBC didn't create them. The footage was provided and controlled by Beijing Olympic Broadcasting, a Chinese company.

I asked NBC Sports spokesman Adam Freifeld about this. He wouldn't speak on tape but said, quote, it's not our production. Our guys are very clear that this was animation.

Their guys may have been clear on this, but given Lauer's choice of words, I'm not sure the nearly 70 million Americans watching were. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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