NBC posts strong ratings for Vancouver Olympics

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A tragic start to the Olympics brought ratings-starved NBC some much-needed relief but it mowed down some competitors in its path -- most notably Jack Bauer.

Here's a look at the week's winners and losers:


Winter Olympics. Like manna from heaven, the Winter Games showered NBC with nearly 28 million viewers for four consecutive nights -- up 25 percent from the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. The biggest Turin-to-Vancouver gain came during the opening ceremonies. This year's opening attracted an average of nearly 33 million viewers. That's the biggest crowd for an opening ceremony of a non-U.S.-based Winter Games since the 1994 Lillehammer Games, when 40 million people who'd been whipped into an Olympic frenzy thanks to the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding scandal watched the opening night. This year's opening ceremony was broadcast just hours after Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died tragically when he flew off the luge track and slammed into a steel beam during a training run. The accident had been shown on ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts before the opening ceremony Friday. Washington is doing its bit to help NBC. We rank No. 21 in Games viewing through the first four nights; nearly 18 percent of our homes are tuned in.

"Undercover Boss." CBS's new reality series, in which bosses of companies with image problems sign up to go "undercover" at their firms so as to be seen spreading sweetness and light among their unsuspecting employees, didn't just hold its own against the Winter Olympics. It actually coughed up CBS's best performance in the time slot among young viewers since 2004. This can be explained in two words: Hooters Episode.

"Family Guy." How does Seth MacFarlane turn an episode of "Family Guy" that got pounded on Sunday by Olympics coverage and CBS's new reality series "Undercover Boss" into a major news event? By including a crack about Sarah Palin, silly! In the episode, teenager Chris goes on a date with a girl named Ellen who has Down syndrome and who, when asked, says "my mom's the former governor of Alaska." Palin rose to the bait, taking to her Facebook page to call the episode a "kick in the gut" because it "mocked" her baby boy Trig, who has the same genetic condition. Palin's daughter Bristol also weighed in, calling the cartoon's writers "heartless jerks." This triggered much debate in the media as to whether it was (a) heinous or (b) respectful because the episode focused on what a shrew Ellen was rather than on her genetic condition. MacFarlane, meanwhile, went with the "biting satire" defense, in a statement sent out Tuesday.

"American Idol." Fox's singing competition bounced back from sluggish audition episodes to log its biggest non-finale, non-debut Tuesday in nearly two years when it unveiled Ellen DeGeneres as The New Paula.


"Past Life." No future. Debuting a new Fox drama about reincarnation is how you scare off all but about 8 million of nearly 28 million "American Idol" fans on a Tuesday night. Then, if you move the reincarnation show to Thursday night, you'll be left with only about 5 million still watching.

Jay Leno. Poor Leno can't get a break. By the time "The Jay Leno Show" finally aired its last episode last Tuesday, fewer than 6 million people tuned in to watch him wave farewell to prime time, even though he'd booked Very Special Celebrity Ashton Kutcher, who came on to explain that the whole seven-month run of the show was an elaborate punk. And now, news breaks that Leno's longtime bandleader, Kevin Eubanks, is leaving the comic; Eubanks will make the move with Leno to "The Tonight Show" in March, but is not expected to stick with the franchise for a long time after that, the network confirmed Tuesday.

"24." World-saving super-agent Jack Bauer got taken out by insidious Olympic snowboarders Monday. Fewer than 8.5 million people bothered to watch the latest hellacious hour of our hero's newest Very Bad Day. That's his smallest audience since one episode way back in November 2003. Even more jarring: Among the 18-to-49-year-olds Jack targets, it was his Very Worst Night Ever.

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