This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Even in an era of time-shifted viewing and social-media spoilers, more than 219 million viewers watched the 2012 Summer Olympics on NBC, making the London Games the most-watched event in U.S. TV history. If NBC Sports received its share of fire for tape-delayed coverage (where a five-hour time difference on the East Coast made it impossible to show any events live in primetime), executive producer Jim Bell, 45, says the “numbers speak for themselves.”
Guiding viewers through the nightly ritual of victory and defeat was Bob Costas, the face of NBC’s Olympics coverage since 1992. Despite this being the first Summer Olympics in the ruthless Twitter age, Costas steered the ship as viewers poured in to witness Michael Phelps’ redemption at the aquatics center and the women’s gymnastics team capture gold (the latter netted close to 39 million viewers for the most-watched night of competition).
“He is frighteningly flawless in that chair,” says Bell of his anchor. Costas also is not afraid to speak his mind, as he did during the Opening Ceremonies when he called out the International Olympic Committee for declining to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre. “I’ve thrown my back out tilting at windmills,” says Costas, 60. “So I might as well continue.”
But it was the Aug. 2 broadcast of the women’s gymnastics individual all-around that proved one of the Games’ most nail-biting moments as 36.8 million viewers watched “Fierce Five” team member Gabrielle Douglas become the first African-American to win a gold medal in the event.
After a whirlwind media tour in New York to promote her memoir Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith, Douglas arrived at THR’s photo shoot with her single remaining copy of her book, which she wanted to sign on the spot for Costas. “Can I write, ‘I hope to see you in 2016?’ ” the ebullient 16-year-old asked, Sharpie poised. Addressing her mother, Natalie Hawkins, she said of the Games in Rio, “Will he still be at NBC?” Definitely.