“Live from Tokyo, It’s Saturday Morning Live”

Seattle Times, October 9, 1964
Seattle Times, October 9, 1964

This is a bit of a mystery to me. The above ad states that the Opening Ceremonies of the Tokyo Opening Ceremonies would start at 1 am in Seattle, which would have been 16 hours earlier than Tokyo, or 5pm in Tokyo. That would mean that NBC would have started live coverage two hours after the beginning of the opening ceremonies. Did people stay up late to catch the Opening Ceremonies two hours in? Did they bother to show anything live on the East Coast? So much was made out of NBC’s decision to broadcast the Olympic Games live from Tokyo through the technological magic of the satellite, Syncom III. In the end, the only live coverage was this partial showing of the opening ceremonies. Of course, if you’re living in the US, that’s to be expected with a time difference of 13 hours in the East Coast, and 16 hours in the West Coast.

Syncom III, the satellite that sent live pictures across the world from Japan to America...just once.
Syncom III, the satellite that sent live pictures across the world from Japan to America…just once.

But apparently, NBC’s overall coverage was pretty bad. Wrote one viewer to The Sunday Star TV Magazine, “May I be the first of many (I’m sure) who will register discontent with NBC’s coverage of the Olympics in Tokyo. The first objection I have concerns the time the games are being shown… It seems to me that more could be shown earlier in the evening. The second objection I have is the poor continuity of the clips…. The whole affair seems to lack enthusiasm… I guess I’m just disappointed after the excellent job done by ABC during the Winter Olympics.” According to the US press, NBC was not wholeheartedly invested in showing the Games during prime time, when sponsors pay the big bucks to watch their favorite entertainers. Wrote the TV Writer for The Oregonian on October 23, 1964, “Instead of pretending to ‘cover’ the games on a day to day basis, NBC would have been better advised to save the film and tapes, edit them and come up with a good two-hour prime time program next week. It would have been more effective and more entertaining than the awkward vignettes we’re seeing now.” “Obviously NBC was concerned about withdrawal symptoms on the part of the narcotized habit-viewers who, if denied Hazel, would have to transfer their habit to another network. (On Tuesday NBC courageously preempts the Bell Telephone Hour, TV’s lowest rated program for an hour Olympic program, knowing there would be no hew and cry from that small audience. But tamper with inane Bill Dana and watch out!)”

Shirley Booth as Hazel and Bill Dana as José Jiménez in two popular prime time programs on NBC.
Shirley Booth as Hazel and Bill Dana as José Jiménez in two popular prime time programs on NBC.