Inside Media: Capturing Olympic Images

October 10, 2009

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

Two hundred and seventeen million Americans watched NBC’s 17-day coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. For David Neal, those numbers were nothing, if not pure ratings gold. 

As the executive vice president for NBC Olympics, Neal oversees the production and technical aspects of the coverage. During the games, he could be found in the network’s broadcast center intensely focused on the big picture and the small details, while wowing viewers with unforgettable moments.

 “The Olympics is more than a huge sporting festival,” said Neal. “At its very best, it’s a global gathering of people that just happens to be centered on sports.”

The Emmy-winning producer added that NBC felt bringing the Olympics to China would be significant given the country’s reputation for human rights abuses and media censorship. 

“We knew it would prove to be a seminal moment. The Chinese government is taking baby steps with a little more media freedom, and we recognized it would be an extremely important time,” he said.

Still, the pageantry that viewers saw took several diplomatic negotiations with Chinese officials, which is why Neal flew to China 18 times in advance of the Olympics “to make it clear that our success would be their success.”

While in Beijing, Neal and his colleagues also happened to bask in the success of one particular athlete.

On the second night of the swimming relays, Michael Phelps appeared to be in trouble challenging Mark Spitz’s unprecedented record of seven gold medals. But when the young phenom pulled it off, the broadcast center went wild.

“We wanted to see Michael do well,” Neal said. And at that moment, “we were literally standing on the consoles.”

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