NBC Makes Bode Miller Cry So It Can Win Ratings Gold Medal
Bode Miller won the bronze medal in the men’s Super G at the Winter Olympics this weekend, making him (at age 36) the oldest medalist in alpine skiing and America’s most successful Olympic skier ever. But NBC doesn’t really care about that. NBC cares about making Bode Miller — and you — cry.
On its face, Miller’s win is a remarkable accomplishment for both Miller and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Back when Miller was just ten years old, Team USA had a dreadful performance at the 1988 winter games in Calgary. American athletes won just six medals and no American was even a contender in alpine skiing. The USOC was embarrassed and began working to improve U.S. performance, turning little tykes into skiing machines. That effort has been a huge success. Since 2002, the U.S. winter team has been a medal-count leader and Bode Miller is a big reason for that.
If the Olympics were actually about sports, you’d think that would be the storyline of Miller’s record Super G win. But the Olympics aren’t about sports. Perhaps for the athletes and in-person spectators, the Olympics are about sports. But tv executives know that covering the Olympics in the same way they might cover the World Series will result in the tanked ratings performance equivalent to the 1988 U.S. Winter Olympic team.
The Olympics are about emotion. And being emotional. And having emotions. That’s why NBC interviewer Christin Cooper just had to make Bode Miller cry.
No, Miller was trending on Twitter because of his emotional interview after the competition. Specifically, the denizens of Twitter thought that NBC’s Christin Cooper went too far in her interview with Miller, whose younger brother died last year.
Chelone Miller, a snowboarder who died in April 2013, has been a big part of Bode Miller’s story these Games. But Cooper drilled Miller with three questions that seemed like they were trying to make him break down on camera. Whether that was her motivation or not, it worked.
“When you’re looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?” Cooper asked Miller, causing him to break down completely. It was her third question about his brother’s death in an interview that lasted LESS THAN TWO MINUTES. Had the “looking up at the sky” gambit failed, she would have chopped an onion and shoved it in his eyes probably.
It’s base and cynical and really kind of awful, but the Olympics are basically misery porn. You can’t really blame NBC or even Roone Arledge for this either. TV audiences want athletes to have suffered mightily to get to the top. They want heart-wrenching stories of poverty and death and overcoming the odds. They want soft-focus feature packages about how hard it was and, most of all, they want (nay, demand) tears. Without those things, the Olympics are just world-class athletes doing daring and amazing things with grace and speed. And who would watch that?
That’s why, instead of celebrating an achievement unmatched in U.S. athletic history, NBC needed Bode Miller to not just acknowledge his brother’s passing in the post-race interview, but publicly mourn the death one more time for all the world to see. We’re all terrible terrible people.