Are The Olympics Over Yet?

I apologize, faithful readers. It has been too long since I have entertained and enlightened you with the genius that is my blog. I have several excuses: Car problems, (minor) health problems, DirecTV problems (don’t get me started on DirecTV — if that service wasn’t the only one to offer the NFL Sunday Ticket, it would be out of my house faster than one of my son’s soiled Pull-Ups). It was also Valentine’s Day, and any male of average intelligence knows that that day requires planning and preparation. Hey, now that Dick Cheney has shown the world that you can shoot someone in the face and not face criminal charges, I’m not taking any chances.

But my lack of blogging is also probably an unconscious response to what most would consider the major sporting event of the last several days — the Winter Olympics. I don’t get the Olympics. OK, I get the hockey, but that’s about it. For me, it’s a bunch of competitions that normally wouldn’t cause a blip on any sports fan’s radar screen — curling, bobsledding, snowboarding — but put them together and we are suddenly supposed to care. It’s akin to the logic behind the formation of the new CW television network: Take a bunch of things that no one wants to watch and put them together on the same channel! Guess what, people weren’t watching Cuts before, and they’re not going to watch it just because it can now be paired up with Living with Fran. As far as I can tell, the only time you can take several unsuccessful pieces and put them together into a successful whole is with classic rock tours. Hey, I’m not going to spend any money to see REO Speedwagon or Journey or Toto or Styx or Boston separately, but put them together for an all-day festival? Rosanna and Amanda, I can’t fight this feeling and I don’t stop believin’ that I will come sail away for that rockfest.

Now if the Olympics would just exist and go away without interfering with my life, that would be OK. But what always bugged me about them — especially the Winter Olympics, which take place during February sweeps month — is how they knocked my favorite TV shows off the air for a couple of weeks. And not just on the network carrying the Games, but on the other networks too, who never seemed to want to “waste” new episodes of their shows against the Olympics. But this year is different. New episodes of 24, Survivor, Lost, Dancing with the Stars, and Desperate Housewives are holding their own or beating the Games, and the juggernaut that is American Idol is simply crushing the Olympics in head-to-head competition. Primetime ratings — the only ratings that matter — for the Torino games are down 50 percent from the Salt Lake City games four years ago and 25 percent from the Nagano games eight years ago. Granted, it’s unfair to compare viewership levels of the Torino games with the Salt Lake City games, since the US locale of the 2002 Winter Olympics allowed for live primetime coverage and not tape delayed primetime coverage NBC is shackled with this year. But the fact is that ratings are down, and now that the other networks have learned that Olympic coverage is clearly beatable, expect them to compete more in the future and drive Olympic ratings down further.

This increased competition is clearly a positive, as Olympic lovers can take heart in the fact that coverage will certainly always attract enough viewers to be a constant on “free” TV for years, probably decades, to come. Others less enamored of the Olympics can look forward to better TV options in the future. Sports fans can continue to rely on college and pro basketball, auto racing, and even (gulp) arena football to get us through the slow weeks between the Super Bowl and March Madness. The only loser here — besides the IOC — appears to be NBC; the network, having shelled out $614 million for rights to the 2006 Winter Olympics, not only has to be embarrassed at the beating it’s getting by the cheaply-produced American Idol, but it also seems likely they will have to give Olympic advertisers “make goods” — free commercial time for not living up to ratings guarantees given to its advertisers.

Looks like NBC will be joining me and many others in a sigh of relief at the truth of this statement: The Olympics are almost over. Whew!

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