NBC is coming under attack for not making it clear that some of the firework displays shown in the Opening Ceremony were special effects and not actually fireworks. The “footprints through history” viewers saw Friday night on television, for example, were not actually exploding over Beijing; they were digital animations created by Chinese technophiles to create an illusion. The “footage” was even made to shake as though the footprints were being filmed from a helicopter. The Chinese distributed the film to media outlets for broadcast and apparently many viewers were fooled. NBC not only did not make it very clear that the home audience was watching a film, the on-air broadcasters didn’t seem to really understand it themselves. Matt Lauer said: "You're looking at a cinematic device employed by Zhang Yimou here. This is actually almost animation. A footstep a second, 29 in all, to signify the 29 Olympiads." [As a reporter on NPR this morning said, “Almost animation? Well, no. That is animation.”] Meanwhile, Bob Costas said: "We said earlier that aspects of this Opening Ceremony are almost like cinema in real time. Well this is quite literally cinematic."
I don’t specifically remember these lines from Friday night, but I do remember at some point understanding that these were not really fireworks I was watching. In fact, I feel like the CGI was pretty evident. Nevertheless, NBC obviously could have made it crystal clear and didn’t (though it seems to me that Costas’s “quite literally cinematic” comment speaks for itself). Ultimately though, I don’t think there was any great cabal here, just a lot of—understandably—heightened sensitivity to any kind of obfuscation from NBC or China.It didn’t help that NBC’s “live” time stamps are tricky to understand given the time difference in China and then again between the U.S. East and West coasts. All in all, however, I find these to be supremely minor blemishes on the Peacock’s otherwise excellent coverage. --Sacha Zimmerman