Trumpets blared, the red carpet was rolled out, and scrolls were loudly read from for the triumphant return of Bob Costas to his rightful place atop the throne overlooking NBC’s primetime Olympic coverage Monday night. Costas missed six nights with an eye infection and had his streak of 157 consecutive nights hosting the Winter and Summer Olympics in primetime snapped. He cheekily returned with the line that he was filling in for substitute hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira. As NBC Olympic chief Jim Bell joked, the peacock’s long nightmare is finally over.
The last week has done the unthinkable – brought about a window into the future of an Olympics without Bob Costas. Of course, there’s always the chance that NBC has Bob Costas’ cryogenically frozen head anchor the Olympics until the earth is swallowed up by the sun. That’s a real possibility that exists. But there is the off chance that Costas actually retires from television one of these days and NBC will have to look for a replacement for one of the most prestigious places in all of broadcasting.
In fact, Costas’ eye infection has led both himself and NBC to reflect upon his mortality as a broadcaster.
First, Costas to the AP:
”My Olympic road is closer to its end than its beginning,” he said. ”By the time I can foresee prime-time changing radically, somebody else will be doing it.”
And chairman Mark Lazarus to SI:
“We said after Sochi we would start to think about what life after Bob might be, whether post-Rio, post-Pyeongchang, post-Tokyo, whenever he does not want to do it anymore. It is a big time commitment for a host. It is tons of research, tons of preparation and a ton of time away from your family. Certainly, we would be foolish not to be thinking about what a succession might look like. That is part of my job. I think about that for all sports. This obviously is a little bit of a wake-up call and it says make sure you are prepared because that day will come eventually. It’s not a theoretical.”
Bob Costas is 61 years of age and assuming he hasn’t totally defeated the process of aging, that means he has 3-4 Olympics left in him. If that’s the case, NBC needs to start planning for the future and who on their roster might have the skill, clout, and gravitas to eventually step into Bob Costas’ primetime Olympic shoes. Here are the candidates currently on the NBC payroll and a couple outside the box selections.
Al Michaels/Dan Patrick – They are arguably 2A and 2B at the network and work alongside Costas in the central roles of Sunday Night Football. Also, both Michaels and Patrick currently work as Olympic hosts in daytime. But neither are viable options for a long term replacement for Bob Costas simply because of their age. Michaels is 69 and Patrick is 57. Although both are equally as talented as Costas, it’s hard to see either as the future of the peacock’s Olympic coverage.
Liam McHugh – The NHL on NBC host is one of the network’s bright young stars and he is continuing to expand his role at the network slowly but surely, adding Notre Dame football in the last year. McHugh is only in his late 30’s so by the time Costas is ready to step aside he should be in his broadcasting prime. The question is whether he could get the sort of major opportunities that might make him more of a household name over the next several years. You could also put hosts like Russ Thaler in this category, but McHugh is definitely at the lead of the pack.
Willie Geist - With Costas absent, NBC went to its news division for substitute hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira. Could the peacock make a similar decision when it comes to a long-term replacement for Bob Costas? Of course! The Olympics are more glorified reality show than athletic competition, anyways. Geist has been climbing the ladder at NBC over the last few years and now anchors the third hour of the Today Show. More relevantly to this topic, he served as a daytime host at the 2012 London Olympics and did a great job. in fact, it was a little surprising not to see Geist involved in Sochi because he was excellent in London. Geist is personable and relatable and most importantly, he’s only 38 years of age.
Chris Fowler/Rece Davis – This takes a few steps, but work with me on this one. It’s rumored that one of these men will replace Brent Musburger as ESPN’s top college football announcer and that both want the job. And, it’s rumored that both men are willing to explore other possibilities elsewhere if they don’t get a more enhanced role. Well, what could be a bigger role than primetime host at the Olympics? Fowler is 51 and Davis is 48 so they may not have the potential as others on this list, but they definitely have the name recognition.
Rebecca Lowe - If NBC were grooming someone to be a primetime anchor-in-waiting, Rebecca Lowe would be my pick. She is a phenomenal studio host and one of the key reasons why NBC’s EPL coverage has become one of the best packages in sports in its first year. I’ve seriously never even seen a bad word about Lowe on Twitter, and it kills everybody. Lowe’s first Olympic hosting job this week in Sochi has been her first opportunity to branch out to a wider audience and she’s handled it with great aplomb. She has the ability to reach out to sports fans as well as the general population that tunes in for the human interest stories that are the heartbeat of NBC’s primetime coverage. And anyone who makes a curling bet with Al Michaels on air immediately wins me over for all-time. Rebecca Lowe is the future of NBC Sports – she’s only 33 and her brightest days are well ahead of her.
Hoda & Kathie Lee – As long as their hosts are taking shots on air… why the heck not!