Olympic closing ceremonies usually offer less of a spectacle than opening nights, and the Beijing finale will have less than half the participants — but that’s still about 7,000 people.
NBC Sports executive David Neal said Thursday he traveled 90 minutes west of Beijing to see a rehearsal of the ceremony conducted in secret on a college campus. Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who directed the opening ceremony, does the same for the Sunday’s finale, set to air via tape delay at 7 p.m. EDT on NBC.
“It’s just unlike any other closing ceremony I’ve ever seen,” said Neal, executive vice president of NBC Olympics. Usually a simple vehicle for extinguishing the Olympic flame and setting the stage for the next games, this year’s ceremony will have a great deal of entertainment, he said.
The opening ceremony was seen by 34.2 million people in the United States, a bigger audience than this year’s “American Idol” finale.
Sunday’s closing is also expected to feature an eight-minute segment from London, site of the 2012 games, with Michael Phelps, David Beckham and a performance by singer Leona Lewis with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
The Beijing finale will have a completely new cast. Neal said none of the 15,000 people who were in the opening ceremony will be in the finale.
Neal said he did not discuss with Zhang whether there will be any artistic liberties similar to the ones taken two weeks ago, when it was revealed that a 9-year-old singer was mouthing the words of a performance by a 7-year-old who was deemed not cute enough because of crooked teeth. Some of the fireworks in that ceremony had also been prerecorded.
“This show is very straightforward,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about.”
Bob Costas, wrapping up his eighth Olympics as a host for NBC, will anchor the closing ceremony with Dan Hicks, Mary Carillo and Joshua Cooper Ramo, NBC’s China analyst.
NBC will air the ceremony taped rather than live (Beijing’s time zone is 12 hours ahead of the eastern U.S.). The same thing happened with the opening ceremony and NBC was concerned when some highlights got out over the Internet before they were broadcast on the network. But, if anything, it whetted the appetite of people who later watched on TV.
Neal said it’s not certain whether NBC will do a wrap-up of Olympic highlights, either during Sunday’s broadcast or another time. NBC Universal, owned by General Electric Co., is marketing separate DVDs with highlights of Phelps’ gold medal-winning swims and the opening ceremony.