One year to the week before the opening of the 22nd Olympiad here. NBC-TV appears well prepared to cover in grand style the two hectic weeks of sporting contests for which it paid $87 million in rights and production fees.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the network's thoroughly revamped and upgraded sports department -- which will originate an unprecedented 150 hours of coverage of next summer's Games, much of it in prime time -- is equally well-equipped to deal with the sensitive political questions surrounding the first Olympics held behind the Iron Curtain.
NBC Sports and NBC News appear to be reluctant partners, uncertain as to who will lead and who will follow as they waltz through the inevitable extracurricular stories of the Games next July 20-August 3.
As a result, while the sporting events are almost certain to get splendid coverage, important stories about the political and social impact of the Games could be relegated to news shows and go unreported during the 150-hour orgy of Olympic programming.
A group of high-level NBC executives, including network President Robert Mulholland, new NBC Sports President Arthur Watson and Don Ohlmeyer, NBC's sports production cheif, just finished a five-day visit here. Along with selected producers and directors who wll work on the Olympic coverage, they observed and conferred with Soviet broadcasters and Olympic Organizing Committee officials during the opening days of Spartakiade, the Soviet national sports festival currently on here.
The NBC officials left Moscow satisfied with the progress being made toward completing the $200 million broadcast center here, toward which they paid $52 million, along with a fee of $35 million for exclusive U.S. television rights to the Moscow Games. (The rights fee is divided between the Soviet organizing committee and the International Olympic Committee.)
"The Soviet's want the Games to go perfectly," Mulholland said, "and it has been our experience so far in dealing with them -- in planning our coverage and getting our facilities -- that they want us to have the coverage better.
"There is virtually nothing we would want that we don't have in terms of facilities, camera positions and access," he said before returning to New York Tuesday.
"I am really upbeat about the whole thing," said Ohlmeyer, executive producer of NBC Sports and the man with control over the content of the 150 hours of Olympic programming -- double the time ABC devoted to the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal.
"They are farther along than I had expected, and they have a full year to correct any of the problems that normally crop up when you open new studios and broadcast centers," Ohlmeyer said. In Montreal, the broadcast center wasn't tried out until two months before the Games.
Few doubt that NBC -- under the direction of the talented and energetic 34-year-old Ohlmeyer, who worked on five Winter and Summer Olympics for ABC Sports -- will do a visually dynamic and lavish job of covering the Moscow Games, complete with the slick "postproduction" techniques of tape editing and packaging that are his speciality.
Whether the coverage will reflect a sharp reportorial sense and sensitivity to the unique political questions raised by these Olympics is more open to debate.
Surely the athletic contests in sports as popular as swimming, gymnastics, boxing and track and field, and as esoteric as archery and Kayaking, will make up the bulk of NBC'S much-heralded 150 - hour extravanganza.
"That's what people want to see -- athletes performing fascinating feats," Mulholland said last weekend, gesturing to the TV set in his hotel suite where a broadcast of the Spartakiade gymnastics competition was in progress.
"That's what we're going to be showing, and that is really the lure and magic and attractions of the Olympics: seeing these people perform.
"It doesn't matter whether an individual is from Japan or the United States or Ethiopia or the Soviet Union, as long as he is good. I hope that the quality of the athletes and the quality of the coverage of the athletes is what people will remember from our telecasts. . . .
"We're here to cover a sporting event. That's what we are going to do, and I am confident that we will do it better than anyone ever has before," Mulholland said.
Nevertheless, the idealism that so many NBC people preach about the Olympic movement aside, politics is an inescapable part of any modern Olympiad. And the Moscow Games will have greater political ramifications than any Olympics since 1936, when Adolph Hitler unabashedly used the Berlin Games to try to demonstrate to the world the superiority of Nazi Germany and Aryan athletes.
It is safe to assume, and naive not to, that the Soviet government will attempt to use the 1980 Summer Games as a grandiose message to the world -- especially the Third World -- that communism works.
Soviet officials undoubtedly will attempt to convince the unprecedented influx of 300,000 foreign tourists and more than a billion television viewers internationally that Soviet society is more affluent, elegant, technologically advanced and egalitarian than it really is.
The Olympics are likely to be the ultimate example of the Russian tradiation for building "Potemkin villages." The term derives from the Prince Grigoriy Aleksandrovich Potemkin, who in 1787 erected an elaborate front of fake villages in New Russian to delude Catherine the Great into thinking more people lived there than actually did.
The modern-day princes of the Kremlin can be expected to erect a similar facade of wealth and technological know-how -- at least partially mythical -- to impress visiting westerners.
A few examples:
A building program of sports facilities, hotels, and other support structures -- officially estimated at $350 million but probably costing much more than that -- should be completed on time for the Games, but at the expense of all other construction projects in Moscow and surrounding areas.
The 12,000 athletes, 7,500 journalists and 300,000 foreign tourists who will come to Moscow for the Olympics -- the largest invasion of foreigners in the nation's history -- will be amply fed and entertained, but likely at the expense of wanting Soviet citizens with whom they will never come in contact.
Already there are indications that food is being stockpiled for next summer's guests while the shelves of markets in and around Moscow are understocked. The million-plus residents of outlying areas who daily ride the train into Moscow to buy meat and butter probably will be kept out of the city during the Olympics by officials who fear overburdening of the transportation system and are wary of contact between poor Soviet citizens and wealthy outsiders.
The Soviets already are bragging about the design and construction of their Olympic facilities, which are admittedly first-rate. They fail to mention, however, that much of the work on the most complex design and construction -- particularly in the computer and broadcast centers and the most elaborate new hotel -- was done by architects, engineers and skilled laborers from outside the Soviet Union.
The 700 foreign journalists covering Spartarkiade, an advance party for the Olympic press corps, have been encouraged to seee complete facilities and to avail themselves of cultural presentations in well-planned and controlled itineraries. But they have been denied access to sites and people the authorities do not want them to speak to or see.
Certainly there are numerous positive aspects of the Moscow Games that also should be reported: The enormous enthusiasm of the Soviet people for sport, and its easy accessibility to all strata of society; the use that is planned to be made of Olympic facilities after the Games are over (the Soviets put the organizers of recent Games in the West to shame in this respect).
But NBC, in its coverage, must be sensitive to the subtle exploitation of the Games for political purposes. Its producers and commentators should be cognizant of the "Potemkin village" and the fact the Soviets do many things "pokazukha" meaning "for show."
Interviews with Ohlmeyer suggest he is more concerned with relatively minor matters that could be construed as propaganda -- the number of times portraits of Lenin appear on American TV screens, for instance -- than with delving into the major nonsports story behind the major sports story.
He does not seem eager to ask, during the 150 hours allotted to Olympic coverage, what the U.S.S.R. is trying to accomplish by hosting the Games, what image the Soviets are eager to project, how they are going about projecting it and how the image might differ from the reality of Soviet life.
All this seemingly would fall under the category of settling the Games in their political and social context, but when asked if he would pursue stories of this nature on the air, Ohlmeyer said:
"Would you ask the same questions if the Games ere being played in Munich, Montreal and Los Angeles Games do not represent high level priorities of national policy, carefully orchestrated by the government to present a favorable image of a country seldom opened for scrutiny by outsiders.
Nor has he seen that in those Western cities, foreign journalist and television personnel are not prevented from moving about freely, doing "man in the street" interviews and exploring facets of local life beyond those the government want them to see.
No one doubts NBC's ability or intention to report overt political stories of the Moscow Games, any political demonstrations, though that would be a rate occurrence in the U.S.S.R.; the admission of nations, such as Israel and China, the Soviets dislike and did not invite to Spartakiade; the possibilities of a black boycott such as occured in 1976; or how Israeli, Chinese r other begrudingly "welcome"" athletes are treated in the U.S.S.R.
"I think basically our job, in addition to presenting the athletic aspects of the Games, is to answer the questions that the guy sitting at home watching might have about what's going on over here relative to the Games," Ohlmeyer said.
Ohlmeyer is suitably obsessed with the idea of journalistic fairness and balance. He has said many times it would be unfair to report on the Soviet subway in a vacuum, to say how clean and efficient it is without explaining that mass transit is more important in Moscow than in other cities because so few people own their own cars. But he seems to have given relatively little thought to the important question of how the first Olympics in a communist country fits into the larger scheme of life.
NBC has research experts on sports and administrators who specialize in dealing with the Soviets on a business level, but no one stationed in Moscow compiling the definitive story of what the Soviets are doing to make the Games come off smoothly and in a light that favors them politically.
It is also revealing that Gene Pell, NBC News resident correspondent in Moscow, hardly has been consulted. It appears his expertise will have little or no place in the sports division 150-hour master plan, even though he is in a unique position to distinguish between what is real-life Moscow and what is an Olympic "Petemkin village."
NBC News will have a considerable presence in Moscow during the Olympics -- probably a staff of about 30 people, including a unit from "NBC Nightly News" and possibly anchorman John Chancellor or David Brinkley -- but their efforts will go only into scheduled news programs and the "Today" show. They will not do pieces for the sports coverage that untold millions will watch.