Retired gymnast Nastia Liukin is reporting for NBC Sports at the Sochi Games. (Scott Halleran / Getty Images)
OK, so there may not be pillows in every hotel room in Sochi. Or water that’s safe to splash on your face. Or such luxury items as lightbulbs, chairs and curtains.
But here’s something that’s sure to be in abundance throughout the Russian city of nearly 450,000 and its surrounding communities during the 18-day Winter Olympics:
Cameras. Lots of cameras.
And many will be stamped, “Property of NBC Universal.”
For the eighth consecutive Games — and 14th overall — NBC has ponied up for the rights to broadcast the Olympics in the United States, and, oh, boy, will the Peacock Posse ever broadcast.
A stunning 1,539 hours of programming are planned the next 17 days. To put that in perspective, during that span, you could ... watch the extended cut of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy some 135 times; or drive from Lake Placid to Salt Lake City and back 20 times.
Think about it: There are only 432 actual hours over the course of the Olympics.
It’s an incredible undertaking when you consider this is more coverage than NBC attempted to pull off in the two previous Winter Games (Vancouver and Torino) combined.
The coverage will include select over-air coverage of the 15 events, some live and most tape-delayed, on NBC’s family of networks — NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC and USA. Plus, for the first time, live online-streaming of everything except tonight’s Opening Ceremony. And of course, there will be a whole buffet of what’s become NBC’s bread and butter during its stranglehold on the Olympics: those spectacularly sappy personality features, some which will break your heart and others that will lift your spirits.
NBC already has tipped us off about one to be shown at some point: A documentary on the 20th anniversary of the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding soap opera, which unfolded at Cobo Arena in Detroit ahead of the Lillehammer Games.
“There’s always controversy, there’s always drama, there’s always heartbreak, there’s always somebody that comes out of nowhere,” said Devin Scillian, a news anchor at Detroit’s NBC affiliate, who made his own trip to Russia in December to stockpile local-interest Olympics features for WDIV. “I am a complete, in-the-bag fan of the Olympics.”
NBC moves shows to Sochi
NBC Universal reportedly paid $775 million for the Olympics. (The Canadian Broadcasting Company holds the broadcast rights in that country, but it is not known how much officials paid. CBC’s coverage runs from midnight to 5 p.m. and 7-11 p.m. every day of the Games.)
And at that price, NBC will aim to make viewers forget that anything else is happening in the world — or, at least, that anything else is happening on another network.
Brian Williams will anchor “Nightly News” from Sochi. Same with Matt Lauer and the “Today” show crew. “Access Hollywood” will be on site, as will “E! News,” and Al Roker and the Weather Channel. Bravo, Oxygen, the Golf Channel, Sprout and Syfy — more NBC Universal-owned channels — will be doing their part, too.
Even red-hot Jimmy Fallon will be getting in on the act, presenting comedy segments throughout the Games. And why wouldn’t he? In large part, the Olympics are serving as a lavish lead-in for his taking over “The Tonight Show” from Jay Leno on Feb. 17.
NBC, in all, expects to have 2,300 employees in Sochi, 10 times the number of United States athletes scheduled to compete.
It’s not pleasant to think about, but that also means NBC will be as prepared to cover the unexpected. There are tensions in Sochi over Russia’s public war on gays, and there are increased reports of serious terrorist threats.
Everyone, however, is hopeful these Games are like most: without incident.
“We have never seen the type of security that we are now seeing in Russia at any prior Olympic Games,” NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel, attending his 10th Games, said in a teleconference last month. “So I think that, barring any event, this will be an Olympic Games in all its glory.”
2010 TV ratings hard to beat
Four years ago, the Olympics lived up to the glory — at least, in the TV ratings.
Buoyed by the United States-Canada gold medal hockey game, some 190 million Americans tuned in, second-most for a Winter Games, behind Lillehammer, which got that massive bump from the media-fueled Kerrigan-Harding buildup.
“That’s going to be a challenge,” NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell conceded when asked if they could exceed 2010.
That’s because four years ago, the Olympics were in Vancouver, allowing for more live coverage. Detroit is nine hours behind Sochi, so much of this year’s in-demand programming, such as figure skating and X Games events, will be shown on tape-delay in prime time. With the time difference, NBC probably picked the optimal time to offer its complete live online-streaming, which is free, so long as you are a subscriber of a cable provider.
Meanwhile, leading up to prime-time coverage each day, the local NBC affiliate will get in on the act.
At 7:30 each night, Scillian, Carmen Harlan and Bernie Smilovitz will host “The Olympic Zone,” a half-hour show devoted to local coverage, including updates on the many athletes with Michigan ties plus behind-the-scenes features.
The Olympics, of course, aren’t for everybody.
There will be those who miss the NHL, which is on hiatus while many of its stars compete in the Games.
There will be those who miss their favorite TV shows, many of which have taken a break rather than go up against NBC’s in-your-face Olympics coverage.
There will be those who don’t know — nor care to know — the difference between the halfpipe and hog lines (curling).
But it’s just 17 days, once every four years. And given the sheer volume of coverage, there’s probably something for everybody.
“For people like you and me who write about this stuff, the Olympics never disappoint,” Scillian said. “They are a story teller’s dream.”