For all the grief NBC has received for its coverage this Olympics, London 2012 is looking like it will be a roaring success for the old peacock. Ratings for this go-round are beating ratings from Beijing, which has led the network to predict it might make a small profit on the games, after initially predicting a $200 million loss. And as much as people complain about tape delays for primetime coverage, NBCOlympics.com has surpassed one billion pageviews.
But all of the squabbling over whether NBC has succeeded or not aside, the network’s production effort this year has been one of the biggest and most involved in history. It’s easy to forget while you’re yelling for Usain Bolt or rolling your eyes at that horrific gymnastics song being played again that hundreds of crew members, led by dozens of directors, are all working their tails off to bring you exactly what you see.
To gain a little insight into what it takes to run things behind the scenes, I had the chance to talk to director/producer Brad Garfield, who worked as a director for NBC during the Atlanta and Sydney games, and for CBS during Nagano. He won a pair of Emmys for his work with NBC, but for him Nagano was the most memorable: His wife went into labor prematurely with twins while he was headed to Japan, which left him subsequently flying home, directing from New York, and trying (and failing) to convince her to name their son Nagano. We chatted about what it’s like to condense so many events into such a small television window and why primetime still rules.
Motherboard: What was the day-to-day work like? Did you have to spend 18 hours in a truck or what?
You know what, it’s not that glorious. Atlanta in ‘96 was my first Olympics. I had started working and doing some stuff for NBC sports after I left my job at PBS as a director, I was doing some freelance directing for NBC sports. That was kind of exciting, and then when they asked if I wanted to work on the Olympics, I thought it was going to be great: I’d get to go and see the venues and check out Atlanta.
But you work for so long, and they put you on this contract that – as a young director, you don’t make a ton of money, you’re kind of stuck doing it for the experience. You work 18-hour days, you go back to the dorms that you’re staying in and crash, and then you’re up again having breakfast and running back to the truck. In three weeks I think I got one or two days off.