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Rio produces first semi-watchable Olympic Opening Ceremony since Beijing

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The organizers at Rio made the worst four hours of the Olympics just about as enjoyable as you possibly can, given the dreadful format.

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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 05: Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium on August 5, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 05: Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium on August 5, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

When you sit down to watch the marathon that is the Olympic Opening Ceremony, you have to start by understanding there is no way to make it very entertaining. Between the absurdly long Parade of Nations, the mandates to throw in dopey political messages, and the sheer scale of the stage, the Opening Ceremony is every two years the worst four hours of the Olympic Games. The event is four hours long. Titanic was 3:15.

With that being said, the organizers in Rio did just about as good a job as they possibly could, harkening back to some of the energy and performances that made the Opening Ceremony in Beijing rather memorable. None could be as boring as London's opening ceremony, though Vancouver and Sochi certainly tried. At least they didn't have a weird Abraham Lincoln dancing and a bunch of dingy Mary Poppins flying around some demonic gargoyle.

It was a bit ironic that Rio would open the Opening Ceremony with a symbol designed to represent "peace with the earth." It was a major theme over the next four hours, with the importance of the environment even dominating the Parade of Nations. Images and lectures of CO2 gathering in the atmosphere? I guess subtlety is not the forte of the Brazilians. Yet Rio lecturing anybody about environmental issues is like Chicago lecturing the rest of the world about gun violence. Plus, I don't see the need for these messages. We keep being told the Olympics are supposed to be void of politics... yet they get infused into the Opening Ceremony. Every. Single. Time.

Outside of THE MESSAGE!!! of the environment, the storyline of the evening was, like it is with every one of these slogs, "the history of Brazil." We go to see as Japan invaded the country, some Brazilian claimed to invent the airplane (sorry, getting off the ground two feet is a long-jump, not flying), and a super model take 14 minutes to walk across a stage. I'm dyin' ovah here.

The design of it all was the highlight of the night. Gorgeous colors, lots of movement. It harkened back to the successful 2008 Beijing Opening Ceremony. The boats crashing on the "waves," the dancing across the buildings, the constantly evolving floor that was (finally) used to perfection. If some of the other elements were clunky, the design was like watching an episode of The Prisoner on acid.

Then, just as the evening was getting going, everyone stopped what they were doing and suffered through... the Parade of Nations.

The Parade of Nations is impossible to make interesting. With 207 delegations it's over a two-hour process to get them all in. Brazil did just about everything they could: Bright colors, small four-person music bands following each delegation, those fun tricycles riding in to announce each nation, colorful garb lining the parade route. Again, it's impossible to make this enjoyable, but they got as close as you can get.

We got all of that in before we go to the scintillating speeches!

So how would I improve the Olympic Opening Ceremony?

  • Have the nations stream in through four different entrances, coming together in the middle before departing for the stands. Even if that cut the parade in half, it would be infinitely more engaging. And if they won't do that, have all the athletes run in.
  • Get Offer Nissim to do the music. That'll raise the energy level.
  • Tell a story that isn't "the history of the host country." Seriously, change it up. Reenacting massive Olympic moments in history, tracking the routes various nations or athletes have taken to get to these Olympics... There are lots of stories you can tell other than "look what we did during the Industrial Revolution."
  • Two speeches. Two minutes each. The host-country president and the IOC president. That's it.
  • If you've just got to make a political message, do it quickly and do it well. I just can't handle the "child representing the future wandering in the dark searching for the truth" moment one more time.

Just those five little steps and VOILA! We have something worth watching.