Olympic 'Access'

Showbiz from the Great Wall

When NBC airs the XXIX Olympic Games from Beijing, NBC Universal's Access Hollywood will be there—broadcasting from the Great Wall of China.

“We'll be the only show of its kind to have ever broadcast from the Great Wall,” says Rob Silverstein, Access' executive producer, and could there be a more unlikely show to be there?

It's certainly true that celebrity-filled Hollywood-focused magazines haven't been China's cup of tea. Until recently, free media was not tolerated in China and much of the Internet was blocked. Even today, the Chinese government owns and controls most of the TV stations, magazines and newspapers.

But Chinese youth are becoming more Westernized. They watch plenty of American movies and television, with Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, Ugly Betty, Friends, Prison Break and 24 among the favorites, according to a report on NPR's weekly radio program, On the Media, which recently traveled to China and then dedicated an hour to Chinese media. The Chinese government sees the Olympics as its gateway to Western markets and civilizations, so it's willing to tolerate shows such as Access for a time.

“The Beijing Olympics take on a far greater significance just because of where they are,” Silverstein says. “For the first time ever, this country that has been clouded in secrecy will be opened up for the world to see.”

A standup on top of the Great Wall is just one of the ways Silverstein expects to take advantage of his location when the show arrives in China on Aug. 1, a week before the opening ceremonies are to be held on the auspicious date of Aug. 8, 2008, at 8 p.m. He plans stories on issues such as digital piracy, which has been rampant in China, and on other facets of Chinese pop culture.

“We'll cover the Games like news,” Silverstein says. “We'll get there right before the Games begin, and that's when we'll really get to work.”

While the show's production team, comprised of hosts Billy Bush and Shaun Robinson and a dozen or so staffers, gets its bearings, the magazine will do some curtain-raisers such as showing viewers around the recently completed International Broadcast Center and Main Press Center, from where 10,000 broadcasters will bring the Games to viewers and 5,600 international journalists will report the news. Access also will introduce viewers to the restaurants and culture of Beijing.

Once the Games get going, Access will be all over its most prominent athletes—people like swimmer Michael Phelps, who is again gunning to break Mark Spitz' record of winning seven gold medals in one Olympic Games, and basketball superstars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, who are playing on the U.S. basketball team.


“For those two weeks, we'll cover the Olympic athletes like we cover Hollywood stars,” Silverstein says. “But we're not going to ask them how they won the event. We're going to ask them about pop culture—what movies they like, what stars they like—and bring it into our world. We may bring them to restaurants or bring them shopping. Anything we do with stars here, we'll do with athletes there.”

Silverstein also plans to profile 7-foot 6-inch Chinese basketball star Yao Ming, who usually plays center for the Houston Rockets but will play for the Chinese National Team during the Olympics. “He's a huge celebrity, literally and figuratively,” Silverstein says. “We're going to try to take advantage of that because he's such a huge star in both places.”

The biggest challenge, Silverstein says, is that the show will have to be shot at 2 a.m. because of the time difference: “We'll literally be covering events around the clock, and that poses a logistical challenge. But I can't tell you how excited we are to go. The Olympics is the world's premier event.”