CALGARY -- I carried the 13-inch color TV up to the department store counter -- I didn't come all the way to Canada, after all, to watch the Winter Olympics on a black-and-white set -- and handed the cashier my American Express card.
"Enjoying the Games?" she said. "Very much so," I replied.
"Well, you know," she continued, "the Olympics don't take place all the time, and this time, the Olympics don't take American Express."
Upset but undeterred, I quickly spotted someone in an ABC Sports jacket. Not hard to do; the folks at ABC Sports have 1,250 people here at the Games, making them the seventh-largest ethnic group residing in Calgary. This particular ABCer, a production assistant, believed me when I told him I was Roone Arledge's nephew and lent me his Visa card.
And ever since, I have stared at the TV screen, looking for signs of human life. I have adjusted the color, the brightness and the tint, and even though I can make out reliable, resilient Jim McKay from time to time, the picture usually is unfocused. ABC's familiar images flicker on, but it's hard to make sense of what the network is showing us.
It's been a peculiar Olympics for ABC. The technology is in place -- wonderful point-of-view cameras, tremendous natural sound, superb photography -- yet the Games somehow seem to have been misplaced in the gadgetry.
It's as if we're on a whirlwind tour and there's no tour guide to lead us. Hockey games are shown in bits and pieces; the medal count is ignored on many nights; announcers shout at us without sharing with us too much insight. And always, there is some event "coming up soon" that usually comes up much later than sooner.
There have been good moments -- McKay's piece on the dangers of pairs figure skating, Jeff Hastings' ski jumping analysis, Judd Rose's feature on the differences between Canadians and Americans. And ABC has hyped the right heroes -- skier Pirmin Zurbriggen and figure skater Ekaterina Gordeeva have been equal to their buildups -- but something is missing.
Maybe it's respect for the viewer. I've been sitting the past few days with Bob Uecker (who, I believe, is competing in ski jumping and luge) and we couldn't believe what ABC was doing to my new TV.
We see an opening-day feature on the Coca-Cola World Chorus.
We see Al Trautwig ask Dr. Ruth Westheimer if skiers should engage in sex the night before a competition.
We see David Santee conduct more than a dozen interviews with figure skaters by memorizing one question, "How do you feel about your performance?"
We see McKay mention ABC News anchor Peter Jennings' latest ratings victory before going to Jennings for a primary election update.
We see a daily wrapup show cohosted by America's Late Night Couple, Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford. Then, of course, there are veteran analysts Bob Beattie (skiing) and Dick Button (figure skating). They are both very knowledgeable. They also are like the guests you invite for dinner who stay the weekend.
Take Zurbriggen's fabulous downhill run for the gold medal Monday. Accompanied by Beattie's frenetic, frothing, frantic gate-by-gate rendering, it shattered the senses, like having the Rolling Stones play a concert for you in a phone booth. ABC has terrific sound on the slopes, but a lot of it is lost to Beattie's beat.
Button, sometimes referred to as Bud Collins on skates or Dick Vitale with a beard, gets excited at times, too. Triple toe loops and back inside death spirals can do that to a grown man.
So what we have is another patented ABC Olympics -- a million-dollar look with a 25-cent sound (courtesy of the announcers) -- that has left the viewer adrift. Did I mention that Gary Bender, Keith Jackson and Becky Dixon are here?
I think I'll take back the TV .