We still have a lot of Olympics left to go, but we are far enough into the Games to draw some conclusions. First, as a television event, NBC's endless coverage goes down easy. Olympic Ice, the nightly skating-highlights show on NBC Universal-owned USA, has such a sweet spirit, a viewer wishes there would be a reason for the show to continue even after the skaters go home and there are no gliding Russians to fawn over.
A lot of hopes we (and NBC) had about Americans Bode Miller, Michelle Kwan, Johnny Weir and others didn't turn out the way we would have preferred. That was disappointing.
But there were other moments. France's Carole Montillet-Carles and the United States' Lindsey Kildrow returning to the slopes after suffering frightening falls 48 hours earlier were inspiring, as was U.S. figure skater Evan Lysacek, who fought through a stomach flu to complete a competition he had no chance of winning. Talk about Olympian feats. None of them medaled—but all showed more mettle by gutting it out.
Sentimental as it sounds, the Olympics are good for the soul. (In 2002, it's not easy to forget, U.S. Olympic team successes helped soothe the wounds of 9/11.) Thankfully, this time, NBC is letting us come to our own sweet conclusions by keeping those maudlin up-close-and-personal vignettes to a minimum. From the very beginning, as TV critic Diane Werts noted in Newsday, Bob Costas “delivered an admirable amount of keeping his mouth shut” during the surreal opening-night ceremonies.
Indeed, given that 416 hours of Olympics coverage are scheduled, NBC hype has been a model of minimalism. It is a shame more people aren't watching the coverage, but maybe it is just a sign that the rooting interest in regular broadcast TV is strong. Although NBC execs say viewership is tracking just about as expected, we'd think they would be disappointed that, in the beginning phases at least, the HDTV telecasts are posting low. (But that usually happens when the Games aren't being played in the U.S., and, because of the Internet, where NBC's site has drawn a lot of traffic, it's easier than ever to know the results before you see the action.)
Nielsen surprises seem at least as frequent as the results of the competition in Turino. During the Olympics, Fox's amazing Idol and its gripping House win their time periods, CBS' Survivor barely slows down, and ABC's time-warped Dancing With the Stars is ringing in millions of viewers. On the second night of the Olympics, ABC's Grey's Anatomy beat NBC.
Like the Olympics, the television business is about keeping an eye on the prize, being prepared to change tactics, and being gracious in defeat (OK, two out of three). Let the TV games continue, on all networks.