Olympic Memories

The last time I had a ‘real’ job was 1988.

I was working as a producer for CBS News, and my last assignment was to go to the Seoul Olympics.

I was working with Bill Geist, a contributor for Sunday Morning, the Kuralt show, and while others might have fought to get to Seoul, in our shop, everyone ran away as far as possible.  It was a 3-week assignment, requiring and 8-minute piece each week.

This was pretty demanding for a place where you generally had about a month to craft a piece.  It was made worse because NBC had bought the rights to the Olympics, and so we had no access to any of the sporting venues.  Finally, Shad Northshield, demanding and difficult though he was, had just been replaced by Linda Mason.  Mason came from a hard news background, and she wanted to shift the show to a more ‘news-oriented’ approach. Mason is still a VP at CBS News, so she must have been doing something right.

Now, it is not so hard to produce a 1:20 from the Olympics if you can’t cover the games or get access to the venues. It is a lot harder to produce a coherent 8 minutes. And even harder of you have to repeat the trick 3 times in three weeks.

I had some advanced warning that this was going to be my gig, so after giving it some thought, I bought a handful of 8mm home video cameras and flew out to the US Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs and seeded a few Olympic hopefuls with the camcorders.

This was twenty years, ago, and technology was nowhere near what it is today – and neither was camcorder penetration.  My brother-in-law, Ted Savaglio was then a VP at CBS News and he brought with him the first ‘cell phone’ I had ever seen. It was the size of a brick and each call cost a fortune.

When it came to camcorders, most of the athletes I met had not actually used one before.  I showed them how they worked and told them they were theirs to keep, if only they would shoot some ‘home video’ stuff for me both in Colorado Springs and later in Seoul.  They all agreed.

When we arrived in Seoul, I quickly ran down my seeded Olympic camera carriers.  Some had shot a lot- some hardly anything, but it was better than nothing. The best had been the synchronized swimmers (I am sorry, but I don’t remember their names), and the Ping Pong team.

Sidebar:  Each Olympic team was allowed to bring along both the team and a team doctor. Most brought sports medicine guys. The ping pong team (sorry, table tennis) brought along a team psychiatrist.  Even though the ball can go 90 mph (so I was told), and table tennis is a very big deal in Asia (remember ping pong diplomacy with China?), the team’s most crushing burden was, apparently, a lack of self esteem.

Go figure.

In any event, some of the home video was just the coolest stuff I had ever seen, and of course, I cut it into the first piece I delivered.  We worked like dogs to edit the thing in the hotel room. You can imagine – and to make our satellite window.

When Linda Mason saw it, she went nuts.

In a bad way.

This was totally unacceptable.


The footage had not been shot by a professional CBS News crew.


It was out.

In a crash we quickly enlisted Geist to interview Florence Griffith Joyner and her husband Al. Florence read her most recent poem and Al, who had probably done enough lines of coke just prior to the interview to beam his interview back to NY without a satellite, bounced around the room.

I quit soon thereafter.

In retrospect, the right move.


One response to “Olympic Memories

  1. michael! just ran across this on the net. still using some of your great lines. miss you. what/how are you doin?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s