FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, February 17th, 2014
TRANSCRIPT: NBC PRIMETIME AND LATE NIGHT HOST BOB COSTAS & NBC OLYMPICS EXECUTIVE PRODUCER JIM BELL ON CONFERENCE CALL
Greg Hughes: Okay, thanks everybody for joining us today. We’re joined by Jim Bell and our primetime and late night host, Bob Costas, who returns after six nights away. A reminder that this call is being recorded and the transcript of it will be available on nbcsportsgrouppressbox.com shortly after the call ends. And if you have further follow up, follow up with our NBC Sports press communications team.
We’re going to start out with some opening remarks from Jim Bell and then we’ll go to your questions. Jim.
Jim Bell: Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining us. I’ll try to save as much time for your questions as possible so I’ll just make it brief. Our long nightmare is over. We’re thrilled that Bob is going to back tonight. As nice as it’s been to have Matt and Meredith jump in and fill in it’s great to have Bob back. He’s been doing it since Barcelona in the primetime chair, which was my first Olympics. So I think for a lot of us here there are a lot of people here who put a lot of Olympics notches on their belt and Bob’s always the man. So not having him here the past week has been unusual. So we’re really happy to have him back.
And with that we will commence with the question portion of the program.
Welcome back, Bob. I guess one of the things people must have thought is that you stayed entirely in a very dark room for six or seven days trying to heal. But what else did you do during that time?
Bob Costas: Well the worst three days of it I was primarily in a darkened room. There were other times when just to kind of break the monotony I would go downstairs for a little while to the restaurant of the hotel or – at night walk out on the terrace attached to the room just to get a little fresh air.
And then the second day that I was out Mark Lazarus arranged to have the NBC feed hooked up to my room so I was able to follow NBCSN, NBC, Channel 4 out of New York, KNBC out of Los Angeles. I’ll confess that at one point I caught the last minute of Syracuse vs. North Carolina State and turned away from Olympic coverage for a second to see my alma mater pull another miracle. But then I quickly went back. So I had a little ESPN so I got my CNN too. I got what I need.
And as the days went by it got progressively better. At its worst it was the light sensitivity and the blurred vision. The redness and swelling were pretty bad but they were pretty bad the last night that I was on the air too. But the light sensitivity and the blurriness is what made it impossible for me to go back on the air. As people will see tonight there’s still some redness there.
I’m better than I was but not as good as I’d like to be. In terms of being able to function I can function pretty well now, and the redness and swelling while still there are less than what they used to be.
Are you still pretty uncomfortable?
Bob Costas: No, no, you know, I would say I’d rather not feel this way for the rest of my life but I would say on the injury list of 1-10 this is now at about a 2.
Hey, Bob. Welcome back. Was there ever a time when you were concerned that you might not get back at all during these Olympics?
Bob Costas: I think there was probably a point three or four days ago where I thought there was maybe a 10% chance that might happen because there was one day where it kind of stalled and even seemed to go backwards for a little while. But I’ve had excellent medical care and they’ve changed the care up along the way as circumstances dictated. And so they adjusted to that.
I always thought it was likely that I would be back. I was hoping to be back on the weekend. I always thought it was likely, not certain, but likely that I’d be back today which makes sense, start of a week at least of a work week. So I thought that possibility was remote.
I know how much time and effort and research you’ve put into this. I mean, what was your feeling like I’m doing all this work and then being on the sideline for such a long time?
Bob Costas: My honest feeling is this: I have been lucky enough to do a lot of these dating back to ’88 in Seoul when Bryant Gumble was the primetime host and I was the late night host and then all of NBC’s Olympics since ’92 in Barcelona. So my thought really wasn’t ‘oh my gosh I’m personally missing these nights on the air.’ My thought was, all the people, all my colleagues and friends who work so hard, many of them harder than I work, putting in 18-20 hour days and I just want to hold up my end of it.
You know, it’s like your team takes the field for a big game you want to be able to do your part of it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the most important part, it is the most visible part; but you want to uphold your end. And that was my frustration. I knew that Matt and Meredith would and did handle it capably.
If I had to be out Jim Bell and Mark Lazarus and I agreed that I wasn’t going to come back until I was able to do it. If that meant that I couldn’t come back until Wednesday, I wouldn’t come back until Wednesday. And if it got to the point where I couldn’t do any of the remainder of the Olympics we would have accepted that too.
I wasn’t going to come back just for the sake of coming back. But my main feeling of frustration was just that, you know, my friends and colleagues were working hard and I wasn’t a part of it.
Bob, what do you think the level of scrutiny, including how you look, is going to be tonight? Will it be more intense you think?
Bob Costas: I have no idea but it won’t have any affect on what I do. It won’t look as bad as it did the last night I was on the air and probably it’ll look better 10 days from now but the Olympics will be over so you just go with it.
What did you think of the way your story was covered?
Bob Costas: I only have kind of a fraction of a sense of the way it was covered. I’m just not aware of it. I don’t follow social media. And I didn’t see the vast majority of what might have been said or written. I’m aware generally and I’m aware from friends that this was viral both literally and figuratively. And, you know, I think it would have been water cooler talk no matter who the host of the Olympics was at any time because it’s such a front and center position.
If the same thing had happened to Jim McKay in 1984 people would have talked about it, it’s just that the internet didn’t exist then and there weren’t as many cable television outlets. Plus he would have been saved somewhat by an absence of high-definition TV. So you have kind of a perfect or imperfect storm of circumstance that made this a bigger deal than it was.
I really have felt uncomfortable about that. You know, I just don’t feel comfortable having anything other than the work itself be what people are talking about. But sometimes it’s just unavoidable and this was one of those very rare situations where it was unavoidable.
I’ve often said that if someone were to go on the air and recite the Gettysburg Address from memory but they wore a bowtie when they usually don’t more people would say, “Hey, what’s with the bowtie?” Or wore glasses and they usually don’t. “Hey, what about the glasses?” even though you recited the Gettysburg Address from memory backwards. You know, that’s the world we live in.
As we’re doing this call the ratings for last night have come in. The primetime telecast is down from Vancouver. It’s down from Torino. The sense that people are now coming across back here in the States are – and Christine Brennan of USA Today who was on Media Buzz yesterday, sort of said it, no stars.
There’s a sense here that nobody, whether it’s US athletes or athletes from other countries are making the Olympics at least primetime compelling to watch. And that is what is maybe behind the ratings going down over the – particularly over the last week. Jim, your thoughts?
Jim Bell: Well I can tell you that the ratings are up from Torino. You might want to check your facts there. We can certainly provide you with that information. You know, one of the great things about the Olympics is that you end up having sports come in and fill that void. Lindsay Vonn’s not here and gets hurt and you have Sage Kotsenburg jump in and suddenly come out of nowhere.
And there are plenty of other stories like that. I mean, I don’t think anybody ever would have thought the US/Russia hockey game would have lived up to the hype but it did and set a record for hockey game on our cable channel in terms of the ratings there. So there are plenty of great stories to go around.
There’s a week left to go. Not to give anything away from White and Davis just had a fantastic skate in the ice dance which is a big part of our primetime show tonight. So – we couldn’t be happier with how things are going. Would it be nice to have a another gold medal here or there? Sure, but that’s always the case in any Olympics.
All right thanks very much. And, Bob, congratulations on getting back and also congrats to Mike Emrick on the coverage of the US Russia game on Saturday. He’s getting a lot of praise for what he did on the game so I just want to make sure that’s mentioned.
Bob Costas: You know, if I could throw something in on that one. Over the last couple of years Mike Emrick who has always been beyond great as a hockey announcer has really begun to get his due. He won an Emmy Award a couple of years ago as best play-by-play man and that’s in a field that included Al Michaels and Joe Buck and Jim Nantz and everybody in the room stood and gave him the ovation that he deserved because it was kind of the payoff.
Everybody in the business knew how terrific he was but the NHL doesn’t get as broad exposure on American television, generally speaking, as football or baseball or basketball.
Now after he got a chance to call the Olympics in Vancouver and you have that fantastic concluding game between Canada and the US, now he has the Russia US game and the Winter Classic games and the other outdoor games, he’s always been this good. It’s just that more and more people, a broader audience outside of hard core hockey fans, are noticing it.
And everybody in the business – and we all really like him so much personally, he’s such a good guy – everybody in the business is really happy for him.
With regard to the doctors where did they come from and what type of medical care did you get while you were there? And the follow up would be, was there ever any point in time that you were very concerned about your eyes as to what – whether this was something very serious beyond what it looked like?
Bob Costas: No, last part first. No.
Bob Costas: At first the hope was that it was a bacterial infection, not that you ever want to get one but if you’re going to have an infection the bacterial infection would have had a shorter course. And that’s why on the first night I said the doctors have told me that it’s likely I’ll be – it’ll resolve itself in a few days, which would have been the case.
But then when it became clear after it jumped from the left eye to the right eye and both were involved that it was viral conjunctivitis. There was no doubt that it’s a little more serious in terms of duration but it has an end point. And there was never any long term threat to my sight to or my health so the only question was when, you know, how to treat the symptoms.
The virus has to run its course; you can’t stop the virus or cure the virus but you can treat the symptoms. And I think they did a very good job of treating the symptoms.
Jim, I want to ask you the Christin Cooper thing has gotten a lot of attention and you folks have put out a statement on it and Bode Miller has talked about it. But I wonder because there are a couple other instances, Katie Uhlaender and her father, Pikus-Pace and the miscarriage, do you think you may be going too far to try and emphasize the personal in situation or tragedies in situations like this? And might it be backfiring?
Jim Bell: No and no.
Very good. You want to talk about why that’s something that you find important to do?
Jim Bell: Well I think part of – in the cases you just mentioned – part of their story, something in each case whether it was Noelle Pikus-Pace’s miscarriage or the loss of Bode’s brother that they had talked about. I don’t think that’s particular to the Olympics necessarily. I think if we were doing an NFL game or a baseball game and there was a player that had that you’d be irresponsible not to tell that part of the story. That’s what we do.
I think at the Olympics particularly because people don’t know these athletes, they don’t know their stories, they don’t know the sports, it’s even a bigger responsibility to be able to share those to get viewers to connect with these athletes and their stories and their sports.
Yeah, on the Christin Cooper thing, Jim, can you further analyze, you know, whether you believe, as a lot of people including myself, feel that she could have stopped after one or two questions about his brother and then we could have pulled away from the scene of him crying afterwards, as people embraced his, as his wife came over it did get a little more – and I never really felt like you shouldn’t tell stories of difficulties that athletes and their families have but I thought this was a question or two too far and a scene to far.
Jim Bell: Yeah, and I think probably in the moment and some of the reaction to it we understand some of the shoot from the hip reaction some of the ability of people to take to things like twitter with their columns to vent a little bit about it. But it was a storyline about Bode that had been set up by no less than Tom Brokaw last night who felt it was important to finish it up and button it up the way it happened.
Bode himself took to Twitter to defend Christin Cooper and did so once again on the TODAY Show this morning. So he didn’t have a problem with it – to the contrary, he thought it was fine and said it was what any reporter would have done in that situation.
He stood by her and what she did and the line the questioning. That I guess that ought to take some of the temperature down on it or should anyway. And I think it has. And, you know, I think the way it played out was fine.
So just lingering there while he’s kind of breaking down in tears was okay when you had a lot of hours to determine whether to cut away from that at all? I mean, you know, thinking back on it would you have cut away a little faster?
Jim Bell: Well look, I mean, you know, we can agree to disagree about a cut or a second or a pull up or whatever but I suppose that might have been a case where someone might have said well I can’t believe you didn’t do it enough. Who knows? We have to make a lot of decisions every day in our coverage and we made that one and we’re fine with it. The interview subject was fine with it so I think that should be the end of it.
Greg Hughes: Okay. Thanks, everybody for joining us. If you have follow up contact our press office and the transcript will be available within the next two hours on nbcsportgrouppressbox.com. Thank you.
Bob Costas: Thank you, everyone.