Even as the XXVIII Olympiad in Athens was getting underway, NBC had already won a gold medal in the Phonus Bolonus competition.
Team NBC put out a press release declaring ratings victory for Friday's Opening Ceremonies, which, the network declared, attracted 56 million viewers.
This is what is called a reach number. This number includes anyone who happened to be flipping through the TV universe Friday night, hoping to catch footage of news correspondents facing certain death in the eye of Hurricane Charley, and paused on NBC's coverage of the Olympics ceremonies just long enough to contemplate whether that pretty young chick standing in a shallow pool of water while carrying a fluorescent light strapped to her belly to simulate New Age Pregnancy posed an even more interesting risk: death by Olympics electrocution.
The number that goes into the record books, however, is the average audience. This indicates how many people actually watched the Opening Ceremonies on NBC, including Glowing Pregnant Chick, Pythagorean Man, that ancient fertility goddess who got away with twice as much as Janet Jackson, that new song from Bjork, the Big Giant Exploding Head, and the parade of nations.
Turns out, 25.4 million people did. And, as non-U.S. Summer Games Opening Ceremonies go, that's fewer than the 27.3 million folks who watched the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, but more than the 22 million who watched the opener of the '92 Summer Games in Barcelona. (The 1996 Summer Games were held in Atlanta, and were therefore not non-U.S.).
Among viewers of all ages, this year's Opening Ceremonies were down about 7 percent compared with the same night of the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. But among younger viewers, ages 18 to 49, that drop grew to 16 percent.
By yesterday, NBC's Phonus Bolonus had broken all previous Olympics records, with its viewer total growing to 126 million people who had stumbled across as little as six minutes of Games coverage on any day on any of the seven networks now employed by NBC to amortize the gazillion dollars it's paying for the telecast rights. (Those networks include NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, USA and that high-def channel.) Which, NBC assures us, is a lot more viewers than stumbled across Sydney. We should hope so.
Far more interesting than NBC's King of the Universe press release on the Opening Ceremonies was the analysis put out by New York ad-buying firm Magna Global USA, which concluded that Friday's coverage siphoned off significantly more viewers from cable networks than from the other broadcast networks. About half of NBC's ratings gain on Friday night came from homes that had not been watching TV the week before; about one-third came from ad-supported cable networks and only 15 percent from the other broadcast networks, even though all of those other networks rolled over and played dead with reruns that night.
And, despite all of NBC's efforts to market the Games to younger viewers, the median age of the Opening Ceremonies audience was 48.6 years.
ABC News's "Good Morning America" was all atwitter over the "exclusive" it got with Michael Jackson during his "surprise" visit to an actual church Sunday morning.
Both on its Web site and in its coverage from "reporter" Jessica Yellin, Jackson was referred to as the "King of Pop." This harks back to the bad old days when Diane Sawyer got that "exclusive" prime-time interview with Jackson and his lovely bride Lisa Marie Presley, the one that included the screening of Jackson's video "Scream" in its entirely and that miraculously coincided with -- but had nothing to do with, ABC insisted -- a slew of ads for Jackson's "HIStory" album that also aired on the network. At that time, virtually all ABC press material on Jackson referred to him as "The King of Pop," almost as though it was in the contract, which, according to one PR source who labored at ABC at that time, it was.
In what will surely be the greatest understatement of this week, Sawyer, now diva of "Good Morning America, " said the "exclusive" on the 45-year-old entertainer, who has been charged with child molestation, is a look at the "very unusual weekend trip the pop star took to Sunday school."
Then "GMA" cut to ABC News correspondent Yellin, who -- clearly auditioning for a gig on "Entertainment Tonight" -- breathlessly informed Sawyer from Santa Maria, Calif.: "Well, the fans are already here waiting to greet the King of Pop when he shows up for his legal battle. But ahead of today's courtroom showdown, I had a chance to visit with Michael Jackson.
"ABC News accompanied Michael Jackson for a rare public appearance as he joined Sunday worshipers at Los Angeles' First AME Church," Yellin continued.
A few blah-blah seconds later, she picked up again:
"The notoriously private pop star spoke with us about his morning of prayer."
And then, after Yellin informed viewers about the gag order that kept him from speaking about his child molestation trial, came the Interview.
It consisted of exactly two questions:
"What brought you here today?"
"To worship. And to see the children," Jackson replied.
Red Flag! Red Flag! Red Flag!
"Did you enjoy the service?" asked Yellin, ignoring his answer and the flying red flags.
"I loved it."
Red Flag! Red Flag! Red Flag!
"Jackson allowed ABC News exclusive access as he toured the church Sunday school," Yellin plowed on, ignoring the career train wreck all around her, "surprising preteen fans with autographs and answering questions."
According to ABCNews.com, Jackson met with about 35 Sunday school students, and one girl asked whether she could "attend" his Neverland Ranch.
"Jackson immediately extended an invitation, saying, 'You're welcome to come anytime,' " ABC News.com reported.
Red Flag! Red Flag! Red -- oh, I give up.