Picks and Pans Review: The Goodwill Games

updated 08/04/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/04/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

They were, truly, the amateur Olympics. Ted Turner started his Goodwill Games in Moscow with all the enthusiasm of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland putting on a show in the barn but with half their resources. He had to rely heavily on bad Soviet camera crews inclined to indulge in propaganda: They sometimes bypassed the action to show beautiful buildings or pretty comrades—as if to prove that not all Soviet structures and women are built like warehouses. Turner didn't have the money to promote his Games and get viewers; by a late count, an average of 2.3 percent of TVs were tuned in during prime time. Neither did there seem to be much interest in Moscow: Those pesky cameramen kept showing stadiums two-thirds empty. Turner didn't have the money to hire the best commentators, producers, directors, editors and researchers—and it showed. Neither did he have the loot to send crews around the world for really good "Up Close and Personal" pieces or around the U.S.S.R. for slick features on life there. I got tired of every WTBS commentator repeating the one travelogue fact everybody already knows: Moscow has clean subways. Then I pulled out some dusty tapes from the '84 Olympics and saw more than ever—by contrast—what ABC had done right. In a word: excitement. ABC's commentators ran out of breath at big moments. ABC told you when to look for excitement. And if you missed the thrill, ABC showed it again, later. ABC gave you the highlights. There were highlights to be had in the Goodwill Games—in track and field, women's basketball and even swimming (with our second-string strokers). But even though I watched hour upon hour of the Games, I had to read about half of those thrilling moments in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. They didn't warn me when to watch. Turner didn't try showing you the highlights. He tried showing you everything. So the problem with Goodwill wasn't so much in the Games themselves but in the presentation. But that can be fixed. Facing hurdles from Soviet and American bureaucrats, Turner and his comrades still assembled a sterling (if not golden) collection of athletes and produced some great moments in sport. Now, with time and a track record behind him, Turner may be able to draw even better players in 1990, when the Games are scheduled to move to Seattle. By then, he may get better at sharing his excitement. For amazing effort, I give the guy an A. For the record, the Goodwill Games earn a C+

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