BY NEIL KUVIN
Did you all see the way NBC ended their coverage of the London Olympics? They just cut the live feed before closing ceremonies were finished. I presume (make that know) it was to be able to get the end break commercials in and allow the local NBC affiliate stations (of which there are over 200) start their newscasts on time.
Unbelievable? No, it happens many times. But in this extraordinary circumstance, and with a world-wide audience of untold millions, let’s all track just how NBC explains this mistake, if they do at all. This is a PR gaffe for NBC that goes along with a couple others that come to mind.
How many of you remember the infamous TV “Heidi” incident? It became known as the “Heidi Bowl” later on. It was Sunday, November 17, 1968 and the New York Jets, with star quarterback Joe Namath, on their way to the world championship. Their opposition that Sunday was the Oakland Raiders. TV sets throughout the country were humming like almost no other time. With about a minute left in the game, and the outcome still very much in question, a network technician, following the “log” for the day, punched the right button, switching programming away from the game in order to begin airing the children’s classic, “Heidi,” leaving thousands of viewers mystifiedand outraged.
The TV network shall remain nameless at this time. The decision to go ahead and start Heidi was made, and none of the “suits” at the network repealed that mistaken decision; stopped “Heidi” and returned to the game. “Heidi” could have been restarted from the beginning at the conclusion of the game. But in an era before video tape, you can’t restart the game. Tremendous gaffe. Imagine the frazzled switchboard operator (those were great times) in New York show actually had the phone system shut down. It’s now known as the Heidi Game.
Now I think about one of my own incidences of a decision I had to make almost instantly. I was here in Louisville, Kentucky, managing WHAS-TV, the CBS affiliate (at the time). We had entered into a contract with the University of Louisville to carry their football and basketball games. It was literally my first week at the station and there was a game scheduled between Louisville and another team, whose name I can’t remember. The game was being played late in the evening in Hawaii.
The network program schedule to end prior to switching to the UofL game was another football game. Well, wouldn’t you know it. The network game was tied with a minute to go. It was time for the Louisville game to start. I made the decision that the viewers of the 2 to 3 hours preceding that decision I had to make, deserved to be able to watch the conclusion of that game. So I told master control to not take the Hawaii TV feed.
It was now around midnight. My house phone rings and the UofL Athletic Director, who is in Hawaii, is on the phone, reading me the “Riot Act” for not dropping the network game and starting the UofL game. The language got salty and I realized that this was not a casual situation unfolding.
The bottom line is I stuck with my decision. To this day I think I made the right decision. Everybody survived. Including me.
When you have the responsibility to manage a major community service like a TV station, making those kinds of decisions comes with the territory.
There are lots of times when you have the exciting opportunity to have to decide to interrupt regular programming and go live with severe weather information or other serious incidents for the sake of keeping your community informed. Ho hum. Just another day.