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NBC's Olympics coverage embraces the drama but offers something for all

Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

There's nothing quite like the threat of mutually assured destruction to lend some drama to the Olympics, is there?

Every two years, the Olympic Games return to television, offering viewers a unique meta-narrative that unfolds over two weeks. The Sochi Games in 2014 were plagued by protests over LGBT rights in Russia, plumbing problems and -- who could forget? -- Bob Costas' pink eye. Two years later, Rio was all about the spirited people of Brazil overcoming Zika, economic woes and disconcertingly green pools.

We're only a few days into the 23rd Winter Olympics, but the pre-packaged story this year is about whether the unifying spirit of athletic competition can cool the nuclear brinkmanship among North Korea, neighboring South Korea and the United States.

The Games kicked off Friday night in Pyeongchang, just 60 miles from the border with North Korea, with a ceremony titled "Peace in Motion" that combined the usual pyrotechnic wizardry, adorable singing children and elaborate light displays with a moving call for harmonious co-existence.

In addition to an urgent performance of John Lennon's "Imagine" by a quartet of South Korean music stars, there were projected yin-yang symbols and doves and even thousands of synchronized drones deployed not in the name of war but to create dazzling airborne animations in the night sky.

Athletes from both sides of the DMZ marched into the stadium under a unified Korean flag, prompting deafening applause from most of the audience -- except for Vice President Mike Pence, who sat in silent protest as the dignitaries around him rose to their feet. (The irony was duly noted on Twitter.)

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The event culminated with the lighting of the Olympic flame, carried up an illuminated flight of stairs by a pair of hockey players from the unified Korean women's team, one from the north, one from the south. The message of peace was as clear and infectious as the K-pop that blared in the stadium throughout the parade of nations.

The ceremony also marked the beginning of a new and hopefully turmoil-free chapter for NBC, its first Olympics in many years without either Matt Lauer, who was fired in November after allegations of sexual misconduct, or Costas, who stepped down last year.

Anchored by Katie Couric, newly appointed Olympics host Mike Tirico and analyst Joshua Cooper Ramo, NBC's broadcast of the ceremony was instructive and mostly intelligent, though not without embarrassing moments.

Following a year in which sports and domestic politics have intersected messily, and in contrast to the Sochi Games in 2014, when NBC was criticized for soft-pedaling Russia's human-rights record, the network emphasized the geopolitical stakes of this year's events.

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