In a roundabout way, I’d like to thank NBC and its dramatic coverage of the Winter Olympics for revealing the true character of U.S. skier Bode Miller.
Dramatic Olympics coverage is what NBC’s multi-channel coverage is all about; watch sports for hours and hours and, in the meantime, get sucked into touching stories of personal triumph, heartbreak and resiliency. It’s also about watching hometown heroes, like our own Gus Kenworthy, ski their way into Olympic history – and into the hearts of everyone watching. In the Olympics there is drama around every corner and we love them for it. Sometimes, however, the drama is forced and often goes too far.
The interview following Bode Miller’s bronze medal-winning run in the men’s super-G last weekend did just that. It went too far, and people noticed.
Watching NBC’s primetime coverage of the men’s super-G was exciting from the beginning. Bode, at the age of 36, is one of the U.S.’s most decorated skiers, with five Olympic medals under his belt, more than 30 World Cup victories and two overall World Cup Championships. On Sunday, he set out to win a sixth medal – and to prove to the world that he’s still one of the world’s premier skiers, despite having knee surgery last year and going more than two years without winning a race. Bode is also coming off the loss of his brother, Chelone (“Chilly”), who died last April at the age of 29 of a seizure thought to be related to a brain injury sustained nine years ago, in a motorcycle accident.
Bode’s run on Sunday wasn’t perfect, but it was aggressive enough to give him the fastest time, for awhile. While each racer took the starting gate, Bode looked on, fearing the next racer would race to a better time and remove him from his gold medal standing. For Torie and me, this was classic NBC Olympics coverage. NBC had already told the extended story of how Bode and his new wife, Morgan, fell in love. Then they mic’d her up so we could hear her reactions to the race as it unfolded.
So it was really interesting to hear Morgan tell Bode that his run was really great and that it’s going to be hard to beat (both Torie and I agreed). The super-G course – icy up top, slushy at the bottom – had been tough on a lot of the skiers. Bode’s run was pretty damn good. Bode, in a solemn voice, politely told Morgan that he didn’t think his time would hold up to the rest of the field. He told her he had made too many mistakes in his run.
Bode proved he knew his competition well. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud eventually posted the best time, winning his fourth straight Olympic gold medal in the super-G. At that point, Miller was actually tied for the silver medal with Canada’s Jan Hudec.
For me, the good drama came when the last racer of the day, the U.S.’s Andrew Weibrecht, put down a great run and moved into second place. It was at that time, Bode Miller cracked a smile, because he knew that he would be getting a medal and, more importantly, that Weibrecht came with a surprise silver medal-winning run. You could see Bode was excited as hell that Weilbrecht had done so well.
But in the post-race interview, NBC’s dramatic coverage got weird. The interview got off to a normal start, with NBC reporter Christin Cooper speaking with both Weibrecht and Miller, asking what this medal meant to them. Again, Miller seemed excited at the fact Weibrecht had taken silver.
Miller told Cooper that this medal was “a little different,” with his brother passing away, and that it’s been an emotional year.
Cooper took the next step and asked about his brother further.
“Bode, you are showing so much emotion down here. What is going through your mind?” Cooper asked.
Bode was getting more emotional. The next question came.
“I know you wanted to be here with Chilly, really experiencing these games and how much does it mean to you to come up with a great performance for him – and was it for him?”
It was at that point Torie and I both agreed she should stop. I think the rest of the TV viewership probably said the same thing. It was getting too hard to watch. What was once a joyous interview, was now a painful inquisition. Still, she continued.
“When you’re looking up in the sky at the start we see you there and it just looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?”
Miller took about five steps away and collapsed to his knees, crying. We felt bad for Bode – and disgust for the interviewer, who went way too far with her questions. She tried to mine drama-gold, and it backfired.
Appropriately, headlines the next day were less about Bode collapsing in tears and more about public outrage at Cooper’s over-the-top questioning. It was a perfect example of what can and will happen if human emotion is forced. Bode didn’t want to cry for his brother that day. If he did, he would have, on his own. Instead, Cooper forced it out of him.
But while Cooper went too far in the interview, the editors of NBC’s Olympic coverage carry even more of the blame. Primetime coverage is not live. This was produced. I don’t know who was watching that part of the interview and thinking it was TV gold, but it wasn’t. A good editor would have cut that part of the interview, and in hindsight, I’m sure NBC agrees, judging from the social media backlash against NBC.
Perhaps the classiest part in all of this was Bode’s tweet the following day that defended Cooper and her questioning.
“I appreciate everyone sticking up for me,” Bode tweeted. “Please be gentle w christin cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault. #heatofthemoment.”
I expected to see an angry Bode. A Bode who felt like NBC had taken it too far with the drama. Instead, he took the high road, and even said she asked the questions that every interviewer would have.
It was generous, the way Bode handled it, and in its own dysfunctional way, NBC ended up actually showing viewers just how classy this man, now in the twilight of an epic career, can be.