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Semi-Live from Beijing

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You know what really, really gets my goat, I mean, what really, really perturbs me? It's declaring that something is "live" when it's not. If I see that little "live" marker on my television screen I expect that I'm seeing what is occurring somewhere else as it is occurring (save for transmission times and any sort of delay necessary to ensure that profanity is not accidentally aired). If that "live" thing is on my screen and I can go online and find out what is going to happen, with 100 percent certainty as it has already happened, then the word "live" is a lie. It's a lie and it's not something you nor I should have to stand for.

You've probably heard me talk about how I don't like the Olympics monopolizing my television for two straight weeks (and, make no mistake, even if it's not on, it's monopolizing my TV). Well, I'm past that. I'm still upset about it, but I'm not wallowing (too much). My problem is that last night I watched Michael Phelps do a semi-final heat in a race and was told that only an hour and four minutes later he would have to take part in a relay race. The announcer was worried that maybe, just maybe, Phelps wouldn't be recovered enough to be at his best for the relay. He was saying all this as that great little "live" statement was there in the upper right hand corner of my TV screen.

It was just a little weird to hear such a statement as I was sitting there with my laptop and my browser was open to the NBC Olympic site, and right there was the result of the relay that I was just told Phelps wouldn't be swimming in for another hour and four minutes. I checked a couple of other websites and saw that they had the result too. The NBC Olympic site wasn't simply exercising some wishful thinking, the result was in.

Clearly what I was watching was not live. I checked again though, and sure enough, it was still being labeled as "live." No, it wasn't a mistake, NBC did the same thing the night before as well.

I figure that it's probably live on the East Coast, and that my watching it on the West Coast means that it's delayed three hours. I'd rather not argue here and now about the merits of tape-delaying sporting events, that's a big long discussion and deserving of a piece (at least one) by itself. If the event is being tape-delayed, as this was (at least on the West Coast), it should not be labeled "live." It just shouldn't. It's a lie. It's not even a clever lie. It's a downright, blatant, offensive lie. Live-to-tape (which is what this was) is not the same as live, it's recorded and played back.

Fine, tape delay it. Fine. I get the desire to get the highest ratings during primetime; when I lived on the East Coast I had to suffer through tons of sporting events that ended well past my bedtime so that more people on the West Coast could watch. So, fine, tape delay it for the West Coast, we'll argue about that at another time, just don't tape delay it and then call it live. It isn't live if it's tape delayed, I'm sorry, it just isn't. Is this a political inquisition? Are we going to start parsing words? Are we going to ask about what the definition of "is" is?

Let's not be foolish, let's just get that "live" off my television screen if we both know that what I'm watching isn't live.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Brad Schader

    I believe very little I see on TV, from “live” to “Based on a true story” to “won the election,” I tend to think TV does whatever it can to create the most drama. “Live” sounds much more exicting than “recorded a few hours ago and digitally edited to look like what we intended instead of what we did.”

  • We see the events live in Canada – or if they’re not live they’re not marked as live – and that’s in all of the time zones. Not only that but the CBC’s Olympic coverage runs from runs from before prime time into the very early morning hours and then has the highlight repeated. Some of the events on NBC are live to the east coast. Indeed it seems as if the Chinese have bent over backwards to make it so to the point of scheduling swimming finals for the morning (Beijing time) with the preliminaries the previous night. Not good for most of the swimmers.