Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, August 17. IN the past 48 hours, three Olympic swimming champions appeared on late-night television variety shows to not only relive the experiences of winning multiple medals, but, I hope, to also charm American hearts and win over a few more converts to the sport.
On Wednesday, Dana Vollmer showed up on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in New York City. On the same night, Missy Franklin was in Los Angeles at “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” And Leno hosted Ryan Lochte last night. These are three of the most popular personalities on the USA Olympic team, and I'm glad their agents (or in Missy's case, her parents) worked hard to have them on the show to take advantage of the post-Olympic bump in interest swimming gets.
Below, I grade each of their late-night appearances, based on four criteria. First up is fashion, which might be a little superfluous, but still a big part of making a late-night TV appearance. I'm also grading their Stranger Factor with some help from my next-door neighbor, Dan, who knew very little about these three except that they won gold medals in the Olympics. He got a jury summons to appear in court on a five-day case that lasted during the swimming portion of the Olympics, so all he knew before watching the videos was that Ryan Lochte won “that really long race with all the strokes” (400 IM) and Missy Franklin “is the cutest swimmer he's ever seen.” The Stranger Factor is graded on how much new knowledge the three give, and how interesting they came off to someone who doesn't know them.
With the Non-Stranger Factor, the grade depends on how much new information a die-hard swimming fan would get from the show. This was a tough grade to give since, as I mentioned before, I know a lot about these three.
Finally, there's the Crowd Appeal, which determines how much the studio audience appreciated/enjoyed the time with each of the swimmers. Since I wasn't in the studio audience, my grade is solely determined on reaction I heard on the telecast.
And all four of these criteria will help determine the overall grade for each visit.
Let's start with Dana Vollmer.
Fashion: Vollmer walked out in a strapless black-and-white dress and some very wobbly high heels. The three gold medals she won were draped around her neck, and they were a highlight of the outfit, but only when she was standing up. When she was seated, the camera showed more of the purple ribbon than the gold medals, and I was becoming less thrilled with the purple/black/white combination. Kudos to Letterman for the joke about the medals: “Nice necklace, by the way.” Grade: A-
Stranger factor: About two seconds after Vollmer walked out on stage, my neighbor Dan changed his mind, saying Vollmer is “now the hottest swimmer on the planet.” (He asked me to send his apologies to Franklin in this space.) Dan can only swim well enough to keep from drowning, but having watched the 400 IM in London, he knew how to do all four strokes, so he didn't need to see flimsy demonstrations by Letterman and Vollmer. But he thought they were funny. But Dan wondered, as Letterman did, why there needs to be four strokes in swimming. Vollmer didn't really get the opportunity to answer the question. Vollmer's stories about her issues with her back and heart softened Dan's heart, and trust me, that's not an easy thing to do. He asked me if she ever needed to use the defibrillator she used to carry with her, and I wasn't sure, but I said I didn't recall any reports on that happening. He noticed the sparkly wedding ring on her finger and said “Her husband is one lucky man.” Grade: A
Non-stranger factor: Pretty much everyone who knows Vollmer knows about the heart issues. I learned about her herniated disc a few years back, so for the most part, I didn't learn anything new, but it was interesting to hear the name of the heart problem she experienced: Long QT syndrome. Grade: B
Crowd appeal: Stories of the threat of sudden death and herniated discs aren't going to get audiences rolling in the aisles, but they were definitely excited to hear that Vollmer no longer has these issues, giving her a long ovation. They were also appreciative of Vollmer admitting that she was nervous. Grade: B+
Overall grade: B+ — These guest appearances are supposed to be entertaining. Morning talk shows are where people discuss serious issues like heart problems. Too much of the interview dealt with Vollmer's health, and it threatened to sink the segment. I wouldn't have expected Vollmer to make the late-night TV rounds, and she handled it much better than I thought. Definitely better than the gymnasts the night before.
Below, a clip of her segment:
Next up is Missy Franklin:
Fashion: Franklin was stunning in a simple black dress with sparkly stripes in the front. It showed off her curves, but was tastefully done. Remember, she's 17 years old, plus Franklin doesn't seem like the type to push the fashion envelope. Grade: A
Stranger factor: My neighbor Dan knows it's creepy to say he's going to become a “Missy stalker,” but he was so enamored with her on Leno's show that he wants to know even more about her. He liked the fact that she's an honor student and after the “revelation” that her parents are Canadian, he said he could notice a little bit of a Canadian accent. Grade: A+
Non-stranger factor: So, Franklin is a “CSI: Miami” fan. I didn't see that coming. And she's going to take a forensic science class this year in high school, in addition to advanced dance. Judging by her moves in the “Call Me Maybe” video, she should be quite good in that class. Grade: A+
Crowd appeal: Franklin did a very good job of not only talking to Leno, but also to the crowd. Most late-night guests rarely do that, and I'm sure the crowd subconsciously liked that she didn't exclude them. And her shout-out to her birthplace, Pasadena, got the southern California crowd excited. Grade: A+
Overall grade: A+ — That smile. That laugh. How could you not enjoy it?
Here's a clip:
And finally, Ryan Lochte.
Fashion: Lochte showed up in a simple black suit. Lochte looked just fine in it, but I expected something flashier from the guy who walks around in shiny green sneakers. Maybe he's auditioning for a GQ cover. Grade: B
Stranger Factor: Dan knew Lochte was the heir apparent to Michael Phelps, but he wasn't thrilled by his personality. He was very impressed with the talk of the Strongman workout routine and the fact that Lochte did two events in London with only 27 minutes of rest. Grade: B
Non-Stranger Factor: I wasn't thrilled by the way Lochte exuded himself last night, either. Actress Kristen Bell was sitting next to Lochte the entire time, and Bell was stealing Lochte's thunder. If Lochte is a ladies' man, he seemed a little nervous every time he talked to Bell, but not when he was talking with Leno. The revelation that Lochte had once taken a dance class perked up my ears. If he signs on to do “Dancing With the Stars,” that could be a boost in his favor. I had hoped the talk of his Funny or Die “Peeing in the Pool” video would have brought out a little more from him. He also seemed a little wooden in the 13-second intro at the beginning of the show, in which he showed off a special suit with the logo of “The Tonight Show” on his butt. Grade: B-
Crowd Appeal: Lochte's good looks went over well with the women in the crowd, who threw out a few catcalls, especially when he talked about being single. Grade:A+
Overall grade: B He needs to work on his personality if he wants to be on “DWTS” or “The Bachelor.”
Here's a clip:
Contact Jeff Commings at firstname.lastname@example.org.