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NBC's Two Tales of Olympic Ratings

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Depending on whether you are NBC, the final week of that network's Olympics coverage, like Notorious Chuck D said the other day, was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Here's a look at the week's Shizuka Arakawas and Italian ice-dancing couples:

WINNERS

Winter Games . Under "best of times, spring of hope, blah, blah, blah": NBC scored more viewers last week than any other network -- not that far behind CBS and ABC combined, in fact. With Turin Games coverage, NBC won three consecutive weeks in the ratings, something it has not accomplished in 18 months, aka since it covered the Summer Olympics from Sydney. NBC further notes that 184 million people sampled at least six minutes of the Games across its broadcast and cable networks.

SpongeBob SquarePants . The most watched basic cable program last week? Not Olympics coverage on any of the Networks of NBC Universal, but Nick's Monday SpongeBob SquarePants prime-time special, "Lost in Time," in which SB(P{+2}) was transported to the Middle Ages after a freak jousting accident at a medieval-themed restaurant. SB(P{+2}) nabbed an average of nearly 9 million viewers, beating ABC's "Wife Swap" (8.1 million viewers) -- not to mention UPN and WB (aka the two halves of the new CW network) combined.

"American Idol." Against Games every night (plus "Dancing With the Stars" and "Survivor" on Perfect Storm Thursday), "American Idol" took the No. 1, 2 and 7 spots in last week's rankings. Thursday's heavily padded results episode delivered Fox's highest rating in that night's 8 p.m. hour in 13 years.

Reality Thursday. Four unscripted ratings magnets went head-to-head from 8 to 9 p.m. Thursday. "Dancing With the Stars," "Survivor: Too Long Name," the Winter Games and "American Idol" collectively satisfied an average of 70 million viewers in the time slot. Proving once again it's not the broadcast TV audience that's gotten so small over the past couple of decades -- it's just the shows.

"Dancing With the Stars." Sunday's finale, in which Jessica Simpson's ex-bro-in-law was named best C-lister dancer, drew more viewers than any season finale of CBS's "Survivor" since that show's third edition and a larger audience than any finale of NBC's "The Apprentice" since its first-season closer.

Joran van der Sloot. The No. 1 suspect in Natalee Holloway's disappearance got to argue that he himself is a victim to nearly 12.5 million viewers Thursday at 10. It was the biggest "Primetime" audience in three years.

LOSERS

Winter Games . Under "worst of times, epoch of incredulity, yak, yak, yak": In its final week of Games coverage, NBC broadcast networks averaged fewer than 20 million viewers. Over its entire coverage, NBC averaged just over 20 million, a steep decline from the nearly 32 million a night average for the Salt Lake City Winter Games in '02 and the 25.1 million for Nagano in '98. Among the 18-to-49-year-olds NBC targets, the Turin Games took a nosedive; last week Fox won prime time in the coveted age bracket. Fox says it's the first time in at least 25 years a network has outstripped a full week of Olympics coverage in that demographic.

Fox's Friday. Talk about lousy follow-up: After three nights in which "Idol" blitzed everything in sight, Fox airs a night of "24" reruns that averaged 3.1 million viewers and dropped the network into fifth place.

WB. What's left of the once glorious WB network curled up and died last week when it ran flicks on four of the six nights it programs, Monday through Thursday. Yes, on three of those nights, the WB scored more viewers than UPN -- still, it's just sad.

The week's 10 most watched programs, in order, were: Fox's Wednesday and Tuesday "American Idol"; ABC's Sunday "Dancing With the Stars"; NBC's Thursday and Tuesday Winter Olympics; ABC's "Grey's Anatomy"; Fox's Thursday "American Idol"; NBC's Monday Winter Olympics; ABC's Thursday "Dancing With the Stars"; and NBC's Saturday Winter Olympics.

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