CALGARY -- Touring ABC Sports' surrealistic broadcast center here -- the entire world, it seems, is either live or on tape somewhere on the premises -- leads to an unmistakable, 19-inch conclusion: The Greeks may have started the Olympics, but ABC has perfected them.

In fact, the relay of the torch these days should climax with Roone Arledge -- the inventor of the Living Room Games -- lighting the Olympic flame, or better yet, perhaps lighting a flame under the Dubner Character Background Generator, one of ABC's technical wonders for wonderful graphics.

Starting Saturday, anchor Jim McKay will stare out at America every day for the rest of the month. All around him, just out of camera shot, are the signs of massive support at ABC's 60,000-square foot facility at Stampede Park.

There is the largest control room ever built in North America -- 1,000 square feet.

There is a tape library with 6,000 tapes.

There is an electronic stylus to help create graphics with 5,000 colors from which to choose.

Next to McKay's anchor position -- and clearly within camera shot -- will be a studio in a striking Calgarian ranch-style motif, with a gas fireplace, stacked firewood, wood posts and bookshelves filled with books.

But the heart of ABC's operation is the off-camera setup, the two control rooms and four master control communications units. From the main control room (Control Room A), decisions are made on everything we see.

Control Room A, aka The Real Heartbeat of America, features a bank of 85 monitors and an eerie, controlled mania. "We try to keep the chatter down here," said Herb Kraft, ABC Sports' Olympics vice president for broadcast operations. "There should be only a dozen or 14 people in here, but I counted 34 people here the other day {for Sunday's Olympics preview special}."

In the front row, gazing at the dozens of flickering images -- every camera shot at ABC's disposal at any particular moment -- are a technical director, a director and a couple of associate directors. Sitting in the middle of the group is either Arledge, executive producer of ABC's Olympics coverage, or Dennis Lewin, senior vice president of production.

In the back row, several feet elevated from the front gang, are Olympics production vice president Geoff Mason, talking with producers at each venue; a technical manager and someone monitoring the satellite feeds. That group sometimes is joined by ABC Sports President Dennis Swanson and Julius Barnathan, who directs broadcast operations.

What it amounts to, really, is a producer deciding what shots to take and a director deciding which shots to use, with Arledge or Lewin as overseers.

And none of it makes it onto home TV screens without the four trailers that house master control. Kraft looked around the other day at master control -- which, incidentally, makes anything you ever saw on Capt. Kirk's Starship Enterprise look tame -- and said simply: "It gets very complicated in here."

Complicated enough that for Sunday's preview special, Kraft said, "Five minutes before air time I would've given us a 90 percent chance of going down the tube." A line between coordinating director Roger Goodman and a site director was dead, but two minutes before air, the two made contact and Goodman's heart was retrieved from his headset.

Master control is the nerve center. For instance, when Arledge says something to the technical director sitting next to him in Control Room A, Arledge's voice gets routed through master control hundreds of feet away before the technical director hears it in his headset. (However, if Arledge just wanted to tap the technical director on the shoulder, he'd probably be able to circumvent master control.)

When one wanders through this makeshift madland, the overwhelming feeling is: How does this chaos translate into that patented ABC Olympics look? Well, the network of the Olympics has the drill down nicely (good luck, NBC, in Seoul), and despite everything that can go wrong, most everything seems right to us at home.

But is it possible that some production assistant could accidentally pull a plug -- say, the most important plug in the whole shebang -- and bring 16 days of Olympic glory tumbling down in one frightful moment?


They have backup systems for backup systems here. The preset control room, for instance, not only handles certain feeds and packages but also serves as an emergency center if Control Room A collapses. The only things ABC leaves for chance are the results of the competitions (although you'd think for $309 million, the network ought to be at least guaranteed a U.S. gold medal in hockey).

And when it's all over Feb. 28, ABC will break down its entire complex in 100 hours or so and ship the master control intact for use at the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer. It's video-to-go, and Arledge, president of ABC News, then will get to create another vision of the world where the winners and losers again are colored, if not quite created, by ABC cameras.