U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney, No. 412, is congratulated by her teammates… (Brian Peterson / San Jose…)
The U.S. women's gymnastics team wrote an almost perfect fairy tale in London on Tuesday. And NBC made the most of it, earning more high ratings with its Olympic TV coverage.
The American squad including star Jordyn Wieber, who was earlier eliminated tearfully from the all-around competition, overpowered Russia and all other rivals to take its first team gold medal in the sport since the legendary "Magnificent Seven" in Atlanta in 1996.
NBC made the team's story the anchor of its taped Tuesday prime-time coverage, which drew an average of 38.7 million total viewers, according to Nielsen.
It was the most-watched first Tuesday of any non-U.S. Summer Games since 1960, when American Olympic telecasts started.
However, "non-U.S." is the key phrase. Olympic Games held in the U.S. tend to draw more American viewers, partly because more events can be shown live. And in the case of the Tuesday gymnastics victory, many Americans already knew the outcome long before NBC aired its package. The time lag from London has been an irritant to many viewers and made the network the target of fierce criticism.
Even so, NBC drew its highest ratings for a Summer Olympics night since Atlanta 16 years ago.
Through first five nights of Olympics coverage, NBC is averaging 35.6 million viewers, up 14% from Beijing four years ago.
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-- Scott Collins