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The Real Fire Behind Bob Costas
NBC Olympic coverage takes a really big village
By Sean Coffey
Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Kid reporters Sean, Alexandra, and Samantha Coffey tour the NBC studios in Torino, Italy
Kid reporters Sean, Alexandra, and Samantha Coffey tour the NBC studios in Torino, Italy, at the 2006 Winter Games. Their tourguides are Cammi Granato and Otis Livingston.
(Photo: Sean and Alexandra Coffey)
Thursday, February 23—NBC stands for National Broadcasting Company, but at the Olympics, it might as well stand for National Broadcasting CITY, because that's the size of NBC's broadcast operation.

For the 16 days of the Winter Games, NBC is providing 416 hours of television coverage, surpassing the 375.5 hours for the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. Coverage isn't limited to just one channel. Olympic coverage can be seen on NBC-owned MSNBC, USA Network, and CNBC.

Although all you see—besides the athletes—is Bob Costas and a few other TV personalities presenting Olympic coverage, there's much more to it than that.

Costas and crew are supported by 3,400 people working in a broadcast center that is 75,000 square feet—the size of a shopping mall. There are also 200,000 feet of cables, almost 600 camera positions, and 450 desktop computers in operation. The planning for the event took seven years—almost two thirds of my life.

"We even have 400 drivers, just to get our people around," said Brett Goodman, who works in the network's publicity department. "They have to shuttle our staff from 25 hotels to locations and venues in Torino and throughout the Italian Alps."

My family and I were given a tour of the Main Media Center (MMC) and International Broadcast Center (IBC), where NBC's main offices are located. Our guides were Cammi Granato and Otis Livingston.

Granato, an Olympic gold medalist and probably the best women's hockey player ever, is a hockey analyst for NBC. Livingston, a retired basketball player who won a national championship with the Kansas Jayhawks, is an Emmy Award-winning sports anchor covering his second Olympic Games.

As we walked around the massive building, it was bustling with activity. We saw journalists from all over the world, either hustling to make a deadline or rushing to catch an event. Reporters don't just cover events on location. They also watch TV. Two TVs are set up at every station.

Cameramen, reporters, and journalists were everywhere. The place was crammed with wall-to-wall posters and pictures of famous Olympic scenes past and present. Everyone was working a station writing and researching. NBC journalists are constantly working on copy for broadcast.

"The hardest thing about being an announcer is doing your homework," Livingston told me. "You've got to make sure you get everything done, and you get every detail about the athletes. What we're really trying to do is tell the athletes' stories."

The building was filled with hundreds of computer terminals with Olympic information to help provide those details. It's hard to imagine covering the Olympics without computers. In fact, the fireplace that American viewers see every night behind anchor Bob Costas may look real, but it isn't. It's computer-generated.

At least NBC's sprawling broadcast city doesn't have to include people to cut firewood.

Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.