Peyton Manning, Kelly Clarkson Aim to Shake Up NBC's Paris Olympics

NBCUniversal is testing a new game for the Paris Olympics.

The Comcast-backed media conglomerate has for years launched every Summer Games with primetime coverage of the Opening Ceremonies that typically feature a top sportscaster like Mike Tirico or Bob Costas alongside a popular news anchor such as Savannah Guthrie or Katie Couric. In 2024, the company is blowing up the format.

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Kelly Clarkson and Peyton Manning will co-host the glitzy launch of NBC’s17 days of Olympics coverage alongside Tirico, with Guthrie and her “Today” co-host Hoda Kotb reporting on the spectacle — a parade of boats on the River Seine — along the route. The move adds some celebrity power to the broadcast at a time when more TV networks are trying to broaden the appeal of their sports portfolios and lure new crowds to games and contests of all sorts — and amortize the costly rights fees required to show them in the process.

“We all bring something different to the table,” says Clarkson, perched on a couch between Manning and Tirico on the set of “The Kelly Clarkson Show” Tuesday afternoon. “I’m the fan of the group.”

Organizers of the 2024 Olympics in Paris “are really throwing out the playbook,” says Molly Solomon, executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production, during an interview at NBC’s Manhattan headquarters Tuesday. The Opening Ceremonies “are no longer contained in a stadium with all the pomp and circumstance. Instead, they are trying to do what’s going to be a one of a kind, unique presentation.” That has spurred NBC, says Solomon, to try out what is, for the Olympics, a radical new concept. “It’s more like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or ‘New Year’s Rockin’ Eve’ than it is a traditional ceremony,” says Solomon. “Let’s have a lot of different voices here.”

NBC has many reasons to experiment. Comcast and NBCU are in the midst of a $7.75 billion deal that gives them U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics between 2021 and 2032. But those dollars are being spent as viewers’ behavior is changing. NBC will make every Olympics event live on its Peacock streaming hub as it happens, but then must also gather together a big crowd to watch a curated presentation in primetime. To do so, the company is enlisting Snoop Dogg to add to the nightly proceedings, and is expected to unveil other twists that will make Olympics primetime an event that appeals to more than just sports die-hards.

Others have tread similar terrain as the cost of sports rights increases. Paramount Global’s CBS offered three different feeds of Super Bowl LVIII this year — one aimed directly at kids on the Nickelodeon cable network. And Disney’s ESPN and ABC have devised two ways to cover the NFL Draft. The ESPN broadcast is for fervent fans, while ABC’s version provides entertainment along with inspiring stories of the college hopefuls.

NBC is betting that Manning and Clarkson will help build a good-sized crowd from the outset. The duo offer “grand slam connections” to viewers watching the ceremonies in the U.S.. says Tirico.

Producers expect Clarkson to offer up human-interest stories and details. The musician and host says she is interested “first of all how people overcome their circumstances, how they get to where they are, especially at this level,” she says. “I love being a fan of that and getting to experience that with them, not just the one moment that counts the most when they are playing volleyball or doing whatever sports or event that they are part of, but also how they got there, what it took to get there. I’m the one sitting at home crying with everyone so touched by their energy. You feel their loss if they don’t get what they wanted to do.”

Manning says he expects to offer viewers insight into the the athlete’s competition process. He expects to spend time over the next few months visiting athletic trials and watching U.S. hopefuls such as shot putter Ryan Crouser to learn about their strategies and struggles. “In the sports that I played, if you had an off year, let’s rebound and get the next year,” he says. When it comes to the Olympics, he says, athletes may not get another chance to compete. “I have so much respect for these athletes, and is interested in “getting into the athlete’s head, what they are thinking about.”

NBC has been working on the concept for months. Tirico first approached Manning with the idea while both were attending events around last May’s Kentucky Derby. The sportscaster told the football great that executives were “sort of changing things up for the Opening Ceremony,” Manning recalls, and were about to reach out to Clarkson to suss out her interest.

Manning, whose presence in popular culture has expanded noticeably in recent years, says he’s excited by what he sees as a new challenge. He has in recent years taken on the so-called “ManningCast,” a chatty companion to ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” while hosting a new version of “College Bowl” for Peacock as well as co-hosting ABC’s broadcast of the annual CMA Awards in 2023. He has launched his own Omaha Productions that is gaining traction with a variety of unscripted and sports-themed programming.

But he’s eager to try his hand at concepts that embody some of his passions, including comedy and country music. “I enjoy taking on different projects that take me out of my comfort zone,” he says. He and Clarkson may be taking NBC out of its usual routine as well.

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