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Thanks to the Olympics, NBC Looks Like a Network Again -- For Now
August 14, 2008  | By David Bianculli

OLYMPICS-heap-on-ground.jpgSo far, NBC's prime-time coverage of the XXIX Summer Olympics has averaged more than 31 million viewers. That's a huge number that's bound to get even bigger, because this weekend, if Michael Phelps makes it to the point of eclipsing swimmer Mark Spitz's single-Olympics gold-medal record, the number of viewers drawn to their TV sets should be astronomical.

Meanwhile, every day gives curious viewers lots of stuff to watch, delivers satisfying and unpredictable drama -- and, as an added side benefit, allows NBC to show its very best side. That's something we haven't seen in a while.

Yes, the Olympics coverage is raising all boats in the NBC-Universal family, with CNBC, MSNBC and other cable networks drawing more viewers than usual to its supplementary Olympics coverage. But for NBC, it's raising not only the ratings, but the image.

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Last night, when Japanese gymnast Hiroyuki Tomita, a gold-medal favorite, snapped off the rings and fell end over end before smashing in a heap on the mats below, the live telecast was as dramatic as this sort of coverage can get. Minutes after pinwheeling to the ground in an unplanned, dangerous dismount, the athlete say there with an ice pack on his neck, stunned by what had just happened. At home, viewers were no less stunned.

That's part of what makes Michael Phelps' record-shattering performance so amazing. There are so many chances to make tiny, costly mistakes, and so many astounding competitors. In tonight's event, he may be beaten, and Spitz's record is safe. If not, Phelps will be on track to deliver to NBC its biggest Olympics audience levels since the on-ice duel of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

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On today's Today show, Mark Spitz made an appearance, supporting Phelps in spirit in a classy, casual TV appearance with Matt Lauer. NBC ended that segment by showing video of Spitz at the 1972 Olympics. Those games were broadcast by ABC, but you wouldn't know it from the video. No network IDs, no superimposed crawls, nothing but the image itself.

Ah, those were simpler times. And since the Olympics began last Friday, watching NBC in prime time has been a welcome step backwards. Prime time is full of nothing but Olympics -- no Baby Borrowers, no America's Got Talent, no reality-TV junk whatsoever. And the promos, for the most part, are for scripted fall shows, dramas and comedies, that look like network TV programs and schedules of old.

For now, NBC is delivering pure gold. When the Olympics end, however, a lot of the network's prime time is likely to metamorphose into tarnished brass.


1 Comment


Phillip R. Crabb said:

Hello David. Today's LA Times article quoting me on watching the Olympics via the internet as below. I was 'discovered' from a blog entry I left last here week on watching some of the more obscure Beijing Games.

Big 'doings' for a guy from Sussex County (where some say the zip code is 'EIEIO') appearing in, of all things, the LA Times.

My little "15 minutes" of fame, clearly, is in no small part due to the wide appeal of your website.



(Let that be a warning, or an incentive, for all those who post here: Fame may follow! Congratulations. -- David B.)

Comment posted on August 18, 2008 4:35 PM

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