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Sunday, May 14, 2000
Lee driving CBC's first-rate coverage

By GEORGE GROSS -- Countdown to Sydney

 It is a well known fact that the much maligned CBC creamed the mighty NBC Network of the United States in the television coverage of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

 Actually, it was no contest.

 In a few weeks time, the same fate will befall NBC in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. And the woman who'll lead the CBC charge is Nancy Lee, executive director of CBC-TV, a position that in every other company would be described as president.

 The fact is that the CBC will have a staff of 420 working on the coverage of the Sydney Olympics and poor NBC will have to struggle with 2,900 bodies. But the damaging fact is that NBC will hardly have a minute of live coverage from the Olympics, while the CBC will have 18 hours of live coverage.

 "Our three hosts -- Brian Williams, Ron MacLean and Terry Leibel -- will be on the air a total of 18 hours every day for two weeks," Lee said. "In addition, we'll have the customary Olympics features with Allen Abel. Four of our crews have been working on them already.

 "Brian will fly to Sydney after doing some baseball, Ron after the hockey draft and some golf features and Terry after completing coverage of a few amateur events. We began planning on the Olympic coverage right after the 1999 Commonwealth Games in Winnipeg and we are ready."

 Lee, who rose from radio reporter to radio producer and last January took over from Alan Clark as head of CBC-TV, while Clark became boss of the newly created New Sports Development department. While at the end of the day she's responsible for everything in the department, she can depend on three highly qualified executives -- John Shannon, who's in charge of all hockey operations, Joe Darling, the boss of the Olympic coverage and Mike Brannagan who looks after everything else.

 The Olympic coverage has taken some planning because it involves not only English and French TV sports news, but also English and French television programming, English and French radio sports, as well as programming on TSN and its French cousin, RDS.

 "The main difference between our coverage and NBC's is in the philosophy of programming," Lee said. "First of all, we'll go live because we don't believe in taping of live events. If something important happens in the morning, we show it with Ron MacLean hosting and don't wait till prime time and Brian Williams.

 "Secondly, when a Canadian athlete achieves something in his or her event, we'll document it because we know that not everyone of them can win. But we're not going to be xenophobic and disregard achievements of athletes from other countries. For instance, if our athlete wins a bronze medal, we'll give it proper recognition, but we won't neglect featuring athletes who won the gold and silver medals in the same event."

 Lee is looking forward to feeding TSN and RDS with programming because she was well aware that in order to win the Olympic rights -- $ 160 million US for the next five Olympics -- the CBC needed a partner in cable television. Joe Darling will do the programming for all networks, including TSN and RDS.

 "We're ready to face what is known as the Olympic media mania," Lee said. "We're going live, so no one will have to sit around and wait for the coverage. We have top colour commentators to go with the hosts, which assures the viewers of expert coverage in every way. Most of all, though, remember that we won't be xenophobic."

 In horse racing parlance it would sound something like, "They're at the post, they're off."

 George Gross's column appears each Sunday.
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