Leslie Jones gives Ryan Seacrest an Olympian boost

David Bauder
AP Television Writer

New York — NBC’s first recipient of “Saturday Night Live” star Leslie Jones’ burst of energy is late-night, or early-morning, host Ryan Seacrest.

Hurriedly brought to Rio de Janeiro after her fan-girl social media posts about the games became an Internet hit, Jones is bringing the same enthusiasm in person. She jumps up and down in excitement meeting Shaun White, bursts into tears seeing Simone Biles and trades Olympic pins with Kerri Walsh Jennings. She’s excited to meet people who are probably just as thrilled to meet her.

Seacrest interviewed her early Sunday for his show, which begins every Olympic day at 12:30 a.m.

To viewers steeped in cynicism, Seacrest had to broach the subject: Is this some kind of elaborate joke? Jones insisted it was genuine. She recalled watching the Olympics with her family growing up, describing it as an occasion for the country to pull together.

“I can’t believe that my enthusiasm is the biggest thing going on,” she said.

It was a welcome jolt for Seacrest, whose show has been relatively buzz-free. NBC developed it for Rio in the hope of bringing something distinctive to the time period. His presence alone has riled some cranks on social media who probably haven’t taken the time to watch him.

The hour’s centerpiece Sunday was a beach volleyball match featuring Americans Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena that took place too late for the prime-time show. There was also a thoughtful story about the Brazilian beach volleyball team of Larissa and Taliti, who live and train with Larissa’s wife, Lili, another professional volleyball player.

As the two women showed off their wedding pictures, you wondered whether NBC would have thought it too risky to air in prime time. The piece should have dug even deeper: it never really explored why the couple weren’t teammates in beach volleyball, beyond Lili’s simple declaration that “love and work must be separate.”

Later, White turned up with an interesting story about meeting an old skateboard buddy in Rio, and a discussion about what it will mean to have skateboarding as an Olympic sport.

In sum, Seacrest’s show skillfully did what was intended — appeal to the next generation of Olympics fans — without being patronizing or heavy-handed.

SYNCHRONIZE IT: Speaking of “Saturday Night Live,” it’s impossible for anyone of a certain age to watch synchronized swimming and not think of Martin Short and Harry Shearer’s classic skit. Then you feel guilty seeing how hard it looks and hearing NBC’s Heather Olson describe a practice routine for Americans Mariya Koroleva and Anita Alvarez that includes ankle weights, which feels like a recipe for drowning. Olson said Sunday that Koroleva used to tell her teammates at Stanford that she was “business under water, party above the water.”

RATINGS: Michael Phelps proved a draw for his final race in Rio, as 25.5 million people tuned in to watch NBC’s coverage on Saturday night. Phelps’ final relay was perfectly timed at just past 10 p.m., and the audience peaked at 32.7 million when he was in the water. NBC’s prime-time audience was 26.8 million with cable and streaming added in, compared to 28 million for the corresponding Saturday in London.

GOLF’S WIN: There was a pretty clear subtext to coverage of the gold-medal round for men’s golf: look what you big-name golfers who skipped the event missed. “This was a fresh breeze that blew right through the sport, and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” said the Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner. “There were far too many grim press conferences with some young golfers the last couple of months and there was just an awful a lot of negativity. And I think this is about the happiest I’ve seen the sport in a long, long time.”