This Olympic flame is a fake.
Peer past daytime host Hannah Storm or prime-time host Bob Costas during NBC's coverage of the Salt Lake City Games, and there's no way to miss the fireplace on the well-manicured set.
Turns out, though, that the fire lending the network's studio segments such a warm and cozy feel as it flickers so perfectly is not really there.
It's a video of a fire (replete with wafting smoke) that NBC tried its best to make look real.
In its quest to package the perfect viewing experience for the millions of Americans watching the Olympics each day over these 2 1/2 weeks, the network spruced things up a bit.
The Associated Press asked how the contraption works.
"Our fireplace is truly one of the great mysteries of television," NBC Sports VP Kevin Sullivan said with a laugh Monday, but he wouldn't comment further.
Perhaps someone just figured it would be good if Costas could say, as he did Saturday night, "Here's our special correspondent, Jim McKay, for the first of several fireside chats," without anyone having to go through the trouble of collecting kindling.
If nothing else, the use of video means Costas and Storm don't need to worry about closing the flue at the end of their shifts. And there's no danger of a script being burned.
(Actually, the luxuriousness of NBC's main set sparks sympathy for Jim Lampley, whose CNBC Olympic studio doesn't appear to have enough leg room, much less fancy fixtures, faux or otherwise.)
It's not, of course, the first time the wonders of TV have been used to trick viewers.
During its coverage of the Sydney Olympics two years ago, NBC wanted to minimize confusion that might have been generated by the 15-hour time difference between Australia and the U.S. East Coast.
The potential for confusion was increased by the nature of the telecasts: Clips of taped competition were interspersed with live studio segments from 7 p.m. to midnight Eastern time (which was 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Sydney).
So each night, the studio backdrop designed to look like Sydney harbor changed - through the course of the show, the sky went from early evening clarity to late-night darkness. In other words, lighting tricks were used to make what already was a fake backdrop even faker, giving viewers the impression the time of day in Australia was about the same as in the United States.
And just so no one thinks NBC is alone when it comes to virtual enhancement in the name of aesthetics, here's one other example from the world of TV sports:
In August 2000, a handful of bird enthusiasts watching the PGA Championship on CBS noticed some of the chirps they were hearing belonged to birds normally not found in Louisville, Ky., at that time of year. The answer: CBS was using recorded bird sounds for ambiance.
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