NBC on alert for news in Beijing

Fri Aug 1, 2008 2:16am EDT
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By Paul J. Gough

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - NBC's top man at the Beijing Olympics is excited about athletes breaking records, but he's prepared for any breaking news.

"We're ready to move from sports and Olympics to news the moment something really serious happens here," Dick Ebersol told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday. "I always personally hope that it's basically an Olympics about sports. But if it isn't going to be sports, we'll be ready for news."

Speaking from the network's site at the Beijing International Convention Center, the NBC Sports & Olympics chairman talked about preparations and NBC's back-and-forth with the organizing committee.

"The reason why I have not talked about these things until now is because I'm the person who had to continually deal with (Chinese officials) at the highest levels about being open about stuff," Ebersol said. "I always felt I'd be much more effective as a dealer or a negotiator for things like that if I was doing it quietly."

It hasn't been easy. Between the closed-door negotiations and intense scrutiny of every aspect of the Games, Ebersol said it has worked out better than he ever expected. In July 2001, the night before the International Olympic Committee announced that Beijing had won the right to host the Games, he met Beijing Mayor Liu Qi, who went on to become head of the organizing committee. Ebersol wanted Liu to know what China was in for.

"You really are going to be the center of attention of the world in a way that you've never been before," he told Liu. Ebersol explained that NBC Sports would be there to cover the Olympics but that it is part of a larger company that includes a news division that wouldn't shirk from tough reporting and tough questions. The more open you are, he told Liu, the easier it will be for everyone.

And Ebersol stressed Thursday that if something other than sports happens at an Olympic venue where NBC has cameras, the network will cover it. A protest away from the venues will draw coverage from the news side.

Although China's leadership has kept most media in check, Ebersol takes a philosophical view.   Continued...

<p>Chairman of NBC Universal Sports &amp; Olympics Dick Ebersol appears on a video screen via satellite from Beijing as he discusses the 3600 hours of Olympic coverage planned during the summer Olympics during the NBC Universal Summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>