Watching the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is a strange experience. It’s been 2021 for seven months, and looking at the logo makes it feel like you are in a time machine. Pandemic precautions make it difficult to see the logo in person, so every event seems like it’s happening post-apocalypse. North American viewers are not being well served by the time zones. Tokyo is 13 to 16 hours ahead of the US, so watching any competition in real time means staying up late or getting up horrifically early.
Then there is the problem of where to view the Games. NBC loves to claim that its streaming service is the best place to catch all the action. However, the app’s navigation can be so complicated, it has already generated headlines such as “Why Is it So Hard to Use NBC’s Peacock to View the Olympics?” This makes it difficult to view any event in its entirety. Peacock does have one program, however. Tokyo Tonight .
Streaming live from an unusually purple set at NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, Tokyo Tonight is notably not in Tokyo. Incapable of reporting on-site, hosts Kenny Mayne & Cari Champion fill their 7: 30 PM to midnight ET time with banter and a fast-fire collage covering everything from BMX riding and white water kayaking to skateboarding ping-pong and skateboarding. This is the perfect thing to watch while you scroll through TikTok – it’s a joy.
Champion is beautiful and witty, while Mayne exudes a loosey-goosey Boomer charisma and tends to approach his guests as though they’re people he just happened by chance to encounter, asking random questions and supplying odd anecdotes about his personal life. Both are surprisingly witty anchors, so it can sometimes be hard to tell if they’re laughing. Champion joined the fray by asking the guests their opinions on Beyonce after Mayne began asking them abruptly and without context if they liked Pearl Jam.
All of this gives Tokyo Tonight an experimental charm that is rarely seen in traditional Olympics coverage. Mayne, Champion and others often appear onscreen unaware that their microphones are hot. Champion asked Mayne last week deep into the stream, “Am I supposed be doing anything right now?” “I’m tapped out.”
Even in the more polished portions of the show, a sense of whimsy persists. One segment was devoted to Mayne’s sketch, in which he pretends that a toddler is an elite gymnast. Mayne spoke with Mike Parsons, a veteran American surfer, during “Shredding The Gnar.” It was a bizarre conversation. Mayne asked Parsons how many times he had been out on the water and seen a shark. Parsons was obviously confused by having to calculate the number of sharks he had shared an approximate location with over his five decades of surfing. He was unable provide an estimate. Unfazed Mayne informed Parsons and the viewers that the waters of the world belong to sharks, and not humans. “It’s their ocean,” he said.
He then asked Parsons if he enjoyed Pearl Jam.
Die-hard, gotta-watch-it-all Olympics fans will probably not like Tokyo Tonight, partly because of its hopscotching format and partly because it doesn’t take itself very seriously. It is an excellent choice for people who love watching elite athletes on a global stage, but are also a bit hesitant about seeing a competition taking place. They can also enjoy a sampler of short-form highlights presented with hosts who seem determined not to make it boring.
NBC will need to make changes to maintain American viewers’ satisfaction if it continues to cover the Olympics. This kind of anarchic entertainment would be a good thing for NBC. The ocean belongs the sharks, but my heart belongs Tokyo Tonight
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