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NBC Gives Gymnastics a Workout

September 27, 2000|LARRY STEWART

This may come as welcome news to some: The Olympic gymnastics competition has concluded.

No more gymnastics? What will NBC do? No more swimming, either, although there is still diving.

Hey, nothing wrong with gymnastics, but it seemed NBC had to show us every tumble and crumble.

Why does NBC insist on so much gymnastics? Because the thinking is, women like gymnastics. And NBC figures if women watch, it will get ratings.

And ratings, along with making money, are NBC's main concerns.

If you keep that in mind, it will help you understand much of NBC's thinking.

Everything is based on ratings. The sports fan is going to watch because it's the Olympics, the world's grandest sporting event. So the main objective is to present telecasts that also appeal to the non-sports fan, which NBC views, in general terms, as women.

So if you stayed up late Tuesday night and wondered why NBC devoted several minutes to a feature with Jimmy Roberts reporting on a train ride he took across Australia, it's because the belief is such things appeal to women.

Well, Roberts paying a visit to a brothel and also an all-dirt golf course may appeal more to men, but overall such travelogue features are designed to appeal to women. So are the sappy profiles.

Is NBC's approach working? Well, it depends on how you look at it.

On Monday night, the Olympics on NBC, with a 15.8 rating and 26 share, beat "Monday Night Football" on ABC, which had a 10.3/18, the lowest numbers of the season.

On the other hand, these Olympics are still lagging far behind the last three Summer Games and the cumulative prime-time average rating of 14.8 is 8% below the guarantee to sponsors.

Interestingly, the ratings on the West Coast are higher than elsewhere. Six of the seven markets drawing the highest Olympic ratings are located on the West Coast. The average rating for L.A. through Sunday was 19.1. In Seattle, even though live CBC coverage is available, the average through Sunday was 19.8.

NBC may consider gymnastics the No. 1 Olympic sport--or possibly swimming or track and field--but the unofficial No. 1 sport is NBC bashing.

Even Bob Costas' hair has been a target. No, we're told, he hasn't dyed his hair. It's the lighting in the studio.

And a minor technical glitch such as a mug of Australia's Cathy Freeman showing up briefly on a graphic with an American flag doesn't go unnoticed.

NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol may be getting a little battle-weary. "I've been doing this 11 years and I've been in the battlefield with the shield fending off arrows before," he told Bloomberg News.

OK, NBC is doing some good things, and generally the announcing has been very good.

The Olympics have reunited Chris Marlowe and Paul Sunderland on volleyball, and the pair, who hadn't worked together since the Atlanta Games, are jelling as if they never missed a beat. They got some prime-time exposure Tuesday night for the U.S. women's victory over South Korea.

"The are two things Chris and I didn't anticipate going into the Games," Sunderland said from Sydney. "One is the men would be this bad and, two, that the women would be this good."

The U.S. men are already gone. So will Sunderland and Marlowe continue to cover men's matches?

"Sure," Sunderland said. "We'll be at Yugoslavia against the Netherlands tonight."

The question is, will any of that match make it on NBC?

There was no track and field for NBC to cover on Tuesday night's show. But that sport enjoyed a big night Monday, when Cathy Freeman and Michael Johnson won the 400-meter races. In both cases, NBC left the post-race celebrations too soon. NBC showed us the celebrations taking place outside Olympic Stadium after Freeman's victory. It should have stayed with the celebration inside the stadium until Freeman had completed her victory lap.

Television is usually criticized for milking an event too much. In this case, NBC didn't milk it enough. It had more gymnastics to show.

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