We’re halfway through the Olympics and holy shit have there been some great storylines. The Finger Wag! The Phelps Face! The Two Simones! Through it all, a hero has risen, one who has shown historic grace and strength without setting foot on the field: Bob Costas, the One True Cos.
Two years ago in Sochi, the guy looked finished, ravaged by a nasty case of pinkeye. Rumor was he got it from a botched Botox treatment—the broadcaster equivalent to an athlete doping scandal. He’d been covering the Olympics for NBC since 1988; maybe his time was up. Maybe he could no longer hack the international travel and time changes and sleeplessness, not to mention all that dinner small talk with Lauer. But he made the trip to Rio, and his comeback is just as dominant as that of Phelps. Sixty-four and dude looks better than ever. The side-part still going strong. And those suits! Classic. None of this skinny tailoring bullshit. Best of all, he’s not content to just hang out in the air-conditioned studio. He’s out in the field, heading down to Jamaica to hang with Usain Bolt, getting the fascinating revelation that Bolt ran his very first track race shoeless.
The rest of NBC coverage has been…troubled, let’s say. It started with the opening ceremony, which was tape-delayed yet managed to run an hour longer than the actual ceremony and included Hoda Kotb making a Djibouti joke even fourth graders would roll their eyes at. Then there was the sexism thrown at Hungarian gold-medal swimmer Katinka Hosszú, with commentator Dan Hicks calling her husband “the man responsible” for her success. Then commentator Al Trautwig calling Simone Biles’s mom and dad her “adoptive parents” rather than simply her “parents.” Then there was the network’s decision to not show Simone Manuel’s medal ceremony live. So what if she’d made history as the first black American woman to win an individual swimming gold? Let’s show some tape-delayed footage of Russian gymnastics instead.
The constant tape-delaying has been the network’s biggest blunder. One of the best things of having the games in Rio is that it’s only an hour ahead of east coast time, which makes it the first summer games since Atlanta in ’96 where you don’t need a tape delay. You can actually watch the events live, especially now with streaming. Yet NBC still insists on pretending that Ethernet and smart phones don’t exist, that the business model they’ve been using for the last 50 years is still good, that anyone younger than 30 can actually be influenced by something as old-fashioned as a TV commercial.
NBC has tried to play to the millennial viewer. They’ve got Ryan Seacrest barefoot on Copacabana Beach. Dan Patrick and Mike Tirico not wearing ties with their gingham shirts. Leslie Jones flying in, which, OK fine, is awesome. But taken as a whole, these efforts, more than anything else, only increase the gravitas of Costas.
He’s said that he’s not sure when his last Olympics will be. He’s taking them on a “case-by-case basis.” So while we should absolutely appreciate the incredible performances we’ve seen in these Olympics, we should also appreciate its master of ceremonies. Before he passes his shoes off to Seacrest.