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NBC has faced criticism over the last week or so about its coverage of the London Olympics, for trying to turn the real events into something that more closely resembles an easily-digestible narrative. Instead of simply condemning this, though, it raises another question for me: Why didn’t NBC just make a drama about the Olympics?
By that, I mean, why didn’t NBC make a fictionalized drama about the Olympics, of course. If you look at shows like Smash or Glee, there’s even a narrative model to follow if you ignore the singing and replace the production numbers with sporting events; both shows feature season-long arcs in which the lead(s) are spent training and preparing for some kind of big event that drives the drama and gives the season finale some kind of punch, after all. Imagine, instead of finishing with the Glee Club Regional Finals or the show opening out-of-town for the first time, that events were driving towards the Olympic Games themselves, or at least some kind of qualifying trial (We’d ideally want the show to last more than one year, wouldn’t we?). The season arc is already in place, before everything else has even been created – included the characters themselves.
Those characters, though, are already familiar to us even if we don’t know the details. Think of the real life Olympic athletes we know about, and there’re people worth telling stories of. We know, after all, they they’ll have been training for the games their whole lives, and that there’ll have been a lot of things that they’ll have sacrificed for that training; it’s easy enough to extrapolate what those things might be (Relationships, both romantic and familial! The sort of everyday existence that you and I take for granted, whether pop cultural knowledge or just the chance to relax on the couch with the television and a bag of Cheetos!), and the dramatic tension just flows from there (The comedy, too, if you decide to go that route).
And speaking of dramatic tension: These people literally have the hopes and expectations of an entire country on their shoulders, even though the country doesn’t really know – nor care – who they are except for a very short period of time during the games themselves. That weird double-standard is rich with possibilities, especially if you’re wanting to come up with motivations not only for our lead characters, but also antagonists for them to butt heads with. How could it not create some sense of bitterness, after all…?
For all that, though, we have no Olympic drama to watch. I’m not quite sure why; it’s not like it’s not a good idea, or that NBC didn’t know that it was going to be showing the games this summer and might’ve wanted to tee those broadcasts up with some kind of drama to get viewers in the mood. Perhaps sports shows are a harder sell to audiences than it would first appear? Or maybe there’s something in the network’s agreement with the Olympics that prohibits that kind of thing for commercializing the games in some manner…? Whatever the reason, I feel as if it’s a loss for the network, and for the audience. We all love a good underdog trying their hardest story, and this feels like it could’ve offered us one of those with stakes that we would’ve been able to recognize, empathize with and root for… preparing us for the real thing that’s unfolding now in London.
Ah, well. Maybe we can get something like this leading up to 2014’s Winter Games in Russia.