Beverly Hills, Calif.—Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC's Olympics coverage, said there is "no evidence" that any of the issues dogging Brazil—from the Zika virus to security fears to pollution—have dissuaded viewers. In fact, he said, "perhaps even to the contrary," as intent-to-view numbers "are higher than they were heading into London" in 2012.
Bell's comments came during a TCA summer press tour session beamed live to the Beverly Hilton from Rio. Bell, primetime host Bob Costas and correspondent Mary Carillo waved away notions that NBC would be responsible in the event of disease, terrorism or other calamities overshadowing athletics. "Is Disney responsible for bringing people to Florida?" Bell said.
Costas said "it will be a story" if Brazil "surmounts the problems" and smoothly hosts incident-free Games.
"We would be naïve to think that they don’t face problems with security," Costas said. “More than half of their congress has been indicted for corruption. Their economy is in a deep recession. It will be a story on the back end of this if they surmount those problems and put on great Games."
The notion of Olympic venues facing dire issues with incomplete construction, pollution and political maneuvering "is not a new narrative," Bell said, citing its presence back to his first Olympics, in 1992 in Barcelona. "Then the athletes get here, the energy arrives, the torch gets lit."
All three panelists repeatedly reminded the press that should harder news stories become the focus, a deep bench from NBC News will be onsite to cover. The main focus for Bell, Costas, Carillo and the sports team, is the 6,700 hours of coverage planned for NBCU's multiple linear networks as well as live-streaming platforms.
Pollution in Rio's bay has been an early focus for those competing in open-water events such as swimming or sailing.
Dozens of test events on the polluted open water, where swimming and sailing events will occur, have had "zero problems," Bell said.
But Costas said, "Every competition that takes place on open water, you've got to talk about the condition of the water." Organizers had recommended to competitors that they "try to keep your mouth closed. That's hard enough to do in your backyard pool, let alone open water," Costas said, quipping. "I guess some new techniques will be required."
Pressed about whether NBC, as a major financial engine behind the Games, should have pushed for a venue change or delay in the Games, Bell said flatly, "No, I don't."
Insisted Costas, "The Olympics were going to happen" with or without NBC.