Now that the torch has been extinguished on the Games of the XXIX Olympiad -- and you have to love the modesty of the International Olympic Committee -- I can once again think about the insight and brilliance of Ed McMahon. Specifically, concerning the past fortnight, you wouldn't think he'd have anything to teach us about sports and popular culture, much less television viewing habits and ratings, so stay with me. (And how about Donald Trump offering to buy McMahon's house? You didn't see Rosie do that, did you?)
It was McMahon, remember, who wrote a diet book that included a chapter asking "How many push-ups equals a slice of pumpernickel?" -- so, the man knows what's on the mind of the common (fat) man. My favorite McMahon quote, though, as I never liked pumpernickel, was when he admitted, "I never drink on New Year's Eve because that's when the amateurs drink."
And maybe the Olympics, too, for the rest of us.
In fact, Seth Winter, senior vice president for NBC Sports and Olympics sales and marketing, told the New York Times last week, "The Olympics has sort of been the anti-sports sport for quite a while. Pointing to figures that show forty-nine percent of viewers were women ages 18 and older, Winter says the Olympics wasn't just a sporting event, but a cultural one, adding, 'It is one of the last events that brings everyone to the television set in such magnitude.'"
Bob Costas understood the phenomenon when he asked Bela Karoli to explain the gymnastics judging "for those who don't follow gymnastics scoring as closely as others," knowing that while the approximate 30-million viewers NBC attracted each night included those bemoaning the peculiarities of the Pommel Horse judges, there were many more staring at German Oksana Chusovitina, thinking, "Women's gymnastics?"
Handball, trampoline, and badminton aficionados were no doubt disheartened that NBC didn't put their events on prime time, but, really, why are they Olympic sports in the first place? What's next, dodgeball?
And while we're at it, how powerful is the modern pentathlon lobby that it could strong-arm the IOC into spreading its event over a two-day period -- the same number of days over which the decathlon, which has twice as many events, is competed? I say make the pentathletes finish in one day, or give the decathletes an extra two.
The 2008 Olympics, as it should, sucked the oxygen out of the television and sports world, but I'm wondering if, like aromatherapy, it provided more feel than content. Nothing wrong with that, but after Michael Phelps and the two American gymnasts, Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin (Nastia? Parents, once again, remember the importance of children's names), how many other Olympic athletes, other than members of the U.S. basketball Team, can you name*? Olympic purists are like Eagles fans in that respect. "Name three Eagles' songs in five seconds," I was once asked by a devoted follower, "other than'Hotel California.'"
("Tequila Sunrise," "Witchy Woman," and "New York Minute.")