When I asked how it will feel to sit in The Chair–the “Ebersol chair” if you will–during the Olympics, he went into a mock panic.
“I’m going to be very nervous,” Bell said. “I didn’t think this would actually happen.”
Seriously, Bell knows he has a big seat to fill as NBC’s executive producer for the Olympics in London. Previously, that role was played by former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, who personally called the shots for every Olympics televised by the network since 1988.
Now with Ebersol stepping aside and only serving as a consultant in London, it will be Bell, 44, who will be making the big decisions during NBC’s massive coverage of the Games.
He hardly is a rookie. He is executive producer of Today and has worked under Ebersol for several Olympics.
A former All-Ivy defensive lineman at Harvard, Bell talks about the challenge that lies ahead of him in London.
What did you learn from Ebersol?
Oh, let’s see. Only everything. He’s an amazing guy.
He taught me that pace is very important to the telecast. His philosophy was to keep it moving.
Also, he taught the importance of having a plan. Planning out everything to the minute, but also knowing when you have to change off that plan.
Will it be different not seeing him in the big chair?
It’ll be different, sure. I’ll consult with him every day.
Will you will bring a certain style to the telecasts?
We’ll have to see. I expect what’s worked will in the past will work well again. At its core is storytelling.
Dick used to say if you don’t make the athletes empathetic, you won’t get the women to watch. What do you think in that regard?
I think there’s something to that. I might choose the word humanity. You’re talking about sports most viewers don’t follow. So it is important to personalize the athletes.
What has it been like to prepare for the Games?
One of the more interesting aspects is that you get two years to prepare for two weeks. You could make a decision 18 months out and not be bound by it. Something will happen you didn’t plan for during the Olympics.
Seriously, how do think you’ll feel when it all begins with the Opening Ceremonies?
We’ve done this for 20-plus years. Who was the guy? Gladwell? (Malcom Gladwell) talked about the 10,000-hour rule (the amount of time to master something). Well, I will tell you there are people here who have 10,000 hours working the Olympics.
We’ve got people who know what they’re doing. It’s not about one person. It’s about the entire team.