Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Last night I spent the evening....

I feel dirty. Last night I found myself glued to the television oogling young girls in revealing outfits doing their level best to gain approval from unscrupulous judges and an adoring audience. These girls pushed themselves to the limits of their abilities while I sat there like some dirty old man feeling them up with my eyes.

Sadly, the event I watched was American Idol. Fox was brash in opting to run American Idol against the Olympics, especially with figure skating on the playlist but they took the gamble and it worked. Traditionally the other networks will impose a hiatus on their new shows and run movies or reruns opposite the games. Fox broke form and challenged the Olympics by running its powerhouse Idol against NBC's extensive coverage in a high stakes game of ratings chicken.

The bread and butter for the Olympics is women's figure skating. It's been a ratings machine over the years thanks in large part to the fact that it is artistic enough to appeal to women and men love the skin factor. Oh, we're supposed to put up a fight and the NBA always gives us a chip we can play, but in our perverted little hearts we love the Olympics because it's soft core porn. While our wives and girlfriends marvel at the athletic and artistic ability of the skaters, we men are waiting for the spins that will send that tiny little skirt into the air and give us a peek at rock hard butt cheeks. Sick isn't it? Not nearly as sick as the photo spreads in FHM, Gear and Maxim will be in the coming months. And you can bet somebody (Tanith Belbin) (Please) will accept a two million dollar pay day from Playboy to bare all to the world.

But this time around I watched American Idol, a show I really don't like. I think the talent is often overrated and the selection process doesn't help ensure that the best singer reaches the finals. It's a popularity contests where prepubescent girls have the greatest influence over the final outcome. Making the show even more annoying is Paula Abdul who seems to think that everybody has talent. This might be because she has none and enjoyed musical success anyway. You go, Laker Girl.

Randy Jackson is almost as annoying. If he stood up during every song and flailed his arms around like some drunk groupie at a Poison concert the way Paula does he would be her equal, but Randy's crime is his failure to find a thesaurus. Everybody's a dude and Yo, dog, I just wasn't feelin it. That is, of course, unless that was hype, dog. And that whole dog pound thing? Two words: Played Out. That whole thing was tired after the third airing of the Arsenio Hall show. Got to go. By the way, has anybody else noticed that Randy looks like a frog? Kermit's brother from another mother. It's Diggem! Ribbit.

The only redeeming aspect of the show is Simon who will tell it like it is. He gets slammed for being mean, but he's always speaking the truth and that industry is brutal. If the contestants can't handle Simon's barbs they'll be slitting their wrists after a Broadway audition. Yes, it does matter if you're fat, ugly and don't know how to dress. Why do you think Roseanne's singing career went down the tubes? Why do you think pop tarts like Britney Spears and her predecessor Paula Abdul had careers? T and A, baby.

But this isn't about AI. What happened to the Olympic Games? How can an overblown Star Search retread go head to head with the Olympics and win? Why was I sitting there listening to the American Idol contestants read their carefully edited biographies while the Olympics were taking place on NBC?

That answer was revealed when I switched to NBC after the American Idol segment mercifully ended. I tuned into the middle of the women's figure skating telecast and suffered through the boring classical music and hum drum routines. The reason we don't care about the Olympics is because we have seen them before. Sure, Peggy Flemming couldn't land a triple flip, but aside from an extra rotation in the jumps, things haven't progressed in the presentation of the show for 30 years. Same old stodgy crap. To quote Homer Simpson: BORING!

There's too much focus on artistic impression and the skaters are confined to restrictive programs that don't allow the better athletes an opportunity to really shine. In exhibitions skaters are landing backflips and performing to high energy music that gets the crowd excited but in the scored events the judges insist on traditional routines and we are subjected to a series of uninspired performances that all bleed into one. There's no wow factor. The winner is usually the person who makes the fewest mistakes. If you turn the skaters loose and reward them for pushing the envelop the way they do in the halfpipe fans might be inclined to watch. They make the same mistake in gymnastics during the summer games. Rock and Roll has been a part of international culture for over 50 years but it's still forbidden in the Olympics. Why? To most of the participants Rock is the only form of music.

If these judges would listen to Rock they might have been able to take Bob Dylan's sage advice: The Times They are a Changing. We have 40 year-old white people listening to rap. How can you expect the audience to be turned on by skating performances being performed to stale orchestral music that was written 80 years ago? Hey, Chopin was a great composer and I'm sure he influenced countless musicians through the years, but I'll take your word for it. I'd rather see these skaters and ice dancers working out their routines to Black Eyed Peas or Kanye West. You know, I'd settle for Tom Tom Club if we have to compromise, but if I hear one more "aria" I'm going puke. This music was selected from the movie "The English Patient"...BLUGH!

And we have a winner in the pity party finals. This just in: Irina Slutskaya, the Russian skater, has a deathly ill mother and she is suffering her own chronic illness. Combine that with the fact that she's from Russia, which is always a sob story in itself, and you can warm the cockles of the hardest hearts. Dick Cheney doesn't count because we have already established he has no heart. You simply can't beat a top notch skater with vasculitis and a mother in need of a new kidney. Cue the violins, get a camera crew to Moscow. We need footage people! More misery! Why is that woman smiling? Where's the anguish? THE ANGUISH!

The American team had better come up with something fast, or the Russians will win it all. This is why Michelle Kwan pulled out. Strained groin my ass! Women don't even have groins, everybody knows that. Michelle found out the Irina has a chronic illness and knew that it would be impossible to beat her. That, and the fact the Michelle Kwan can't handle Olympic pressure.

But all is not lost. The Americans have a shot if they can capitalize on the fact that two of the women competing on our behalf are deformed. Look closely. Emily Hughes and Sasha Cohen have no chins. And Emily Hughes doesn't have lips! If Team USA wants a shot at Gold they'll have to play this angle to the hilt. Maybe somebody should kidnap Sasha's mom or inject Emily's sister Sarah with the dreaded bird flu virus. Something needs to be done to offset the dramatic edge Slutskaya has over the US team.

As for the ratings, NBC is screwed. They paid big money for long term broadcasting rights to the Olympics and Fox has proven that people will watch something else. Part of the problem is NBC's focus on melodrama, but some of the blame falls on the International Olympic committee for failing to develop games that are compelling to watch. Snowboard cross was a hit, but Alpine Skiing and Figure Skating are losing ground. Curling attracts a better audience than hockey and nobody watches Luge or Bobsled because there isn't enough potential for disaster. Every year people tune in hoping to see a sled fly out of the tube and crash into the stands, but it never happens. If the Jamaican team couldn't accomplish that in 1988 it's not going to happen.

NBC and the Olympic Committee have invested time and money into hyping certain athletes in hopes of drawing an audience. The problem is they lie about how good these athletes are. Bode Miller was marketed as a threat to win five gold medals, but nobody told us that Bode Miller is not internationally recognized as a top five skier. He could have won medals if the Austrian team got lost on the way to Turin. NBC pinned it's hopes on Michelle Kwan, even managing to manipulate the selection process to giver her an exemption in qualifying for the games, but Michelle decided she was not up to the task and she pulled out.

In previous Olympics NBC and the USOC hitched their wagons to charismatic stars who failed to deliver. Anybody remember Dan O'Brien? He was supposed to win the decathlon and failed miserably. And how about the 2004 Men's basketball team? Nice job there, eh? Fans get tired of the promises of things to come and we stop watching. Instead of marketing the American athletes so aggressively, why not market some of the foreign athletes as well? Leading into the games we heard about Apolo Anton Ohno and his short track hopes, but the real story was the Korean team. Why not promote the Korean team and market Ohno as an underdog? It's a little more interesting and a lot more accurate.

It should be very interesting to see how NBC responds to poor ratings. Heads should roll over this and there could be some pretty heated skirmishes between the International Olympic Committee and the executives at NBC. The IOC doesn't have much of a leg to stand on since they aren't attracting much international interest either. There are plenty of empty seats at every event and the city of Turin hasn't been overwhelmed with the revenue these games are generating. Couple that with the fact that NBC decided to change the name of their city from Turin to Torino and it's a bust all the way around.

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