LAST-PLACE NBC COMES FROM BEHIND TO PUMMEL RIVALS

If a week had ten days, all of the top ten television shows last week would have been Summer Olympics telecasts. Even the other three programs that made it into the top ten attracted fewer than 25 percent of the viewers who tuned in to the Olympics telecasts. Thus far the Beijing Games are attracting more viewers than any other non-domestic Olympics telecast. Last week they averaged 28.7 million viewers, exceeded only by the Atlanta Games in 1996, when they averaged 32.1 million. Meanwhile, the three other major networks' ratings sank to record lows. Especially surprising may have been the fact that the Saturday Olympics telecasts ranked third on the list, seemingly defying the conventional industry wisdom that viewers abandon their TV sets on Saturday nights. Searching back, analysts discovered that the Saturday telecast was actually exceeded by an episode of The Golden Girls in 1990 and that the sitcom typically drew such large audiences back then. Overall, NBC averaged a 9.6 rating and a 28 share for the week. CBS followed in second place with a 1.3 rating and a 4 share. Fox placed third with a 1.2/4, edging out ABC with a 1.1/3.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. Summer Olympics (Tuesday), NBC, 19.9/34; 2. Summer Olympics (Thursday), NBC, 17.9/31; 3. Summer Olympics (Saturday), NBC, 17.8/32; 4. Summer Olympics (Monday), NBC, 17.6/29; 5. Summer Olympics (Wednesday), NBC, 16.7/28; 6. Summer Olympics (Sunday), NBC, 16/27; 7. Summer Olympics (Friday), NBC, 15.4/28; 8. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 5.3/8; 9. NCIS, CBS, 4.9/8; 10. 60 Minutes, CBS, 4.7/9.

NBC NEWS RIDES OLYMPICS' COATTAILS

The huge audience tuning in for the Beijing Olympics has given a boost to NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams, which precedes it in primetime in many markets. After ordinarily running neck-and-neck with (and often being beaten by) ABC's World News With Charles Gibson, the NBC newscast pulled far out in front last week with an average of 9.4 million viewers to ABC's 6.9 million. CBS's numbers appeared unaffected. CBS Evening News With Katie Couric remained a distant third with 5.6 million viewers, which is about its average weekly figure.

ESPN LIKELY TO BID MORE THAN $1 BILLION FOR UPCOMING OLYMPICS

ESPN chief George Bodenheimer and ESPN content head John Skipper indicated Tuesday that the cable network and ABC will likely be bidding for the rights to air the 2014 Winter Games and the 2016 Summer Games. Speaking at a media event to promote the upcoming start of ESPN's Monday Night Football franchise, the two suggested that the winning bidder would likely have to pay more than $1 billion. The rights for the current games cost NBC $894 million, and while it was reported that it would gross more than $1 billion from ads sold during the telecasts, several experts have suggested that it is costing the network and its cable and online affiliates more than $100 in production and marketing costs. While Bodenheimer gave high marks to NBC's coverage, his colleague Skipper was critical of the network's decision to tape-delay the telecasts on the West Coast that are broadcast live in the East. "We would never put an event on tape delay. When we put 'live' on the screen, we mean 'live right now.' We don't mean live three hours ago," Skipper remarked.

ABRAMS REPLACED BY MADDOW AT MSNBC

In a long-expected shakeup, Dan Abrams has been removed as host of MSNBC's 9:00 p.m. hour and will be replaced by political commentator Rachel Maddow, the New York Times reported today (Wednesday), saying that its information was confirmed by MSNBC executives and that a formal announcement is expected today. Abrams's final program will air on Thursday. Maddow is due to take over the time period on September 8 following the political conventions. Last month MSNBC President Phil Griffin had said "At some point I don't know when, she should have a show. ... She's on the short list. It's a very short list. She's at the top." Several political blogs interpreted the move as an effort to fashion MSNBC as the liberal alternative to Fox News. The Times itself suggested as much when it commented, "A program hosted by Ms. Maddow will almost certainly be a closer ideological fit with [Keith] Olbermann's." Although the Times reported that Abrams would likely remain with the cable network, the website TVNewser quoted an insider as predicting that he will leave. "There's interest from other news networks," the source said.

PUBLIC TV TO CHALLENGE NETWORK NEWSCASTS

The nightly newscasts of the commercial networks are about to face competition from public television, which plans to launch its own nightly newscast titled Worldfocus on Oct. 6 that will focus on international news, the New York Times reported today (Wednesday). The newscast will be anchored by Martin Savidge, who is quitting his current job as a correspondent for NBC News, the newspaper said. In an interview with the Times, Savidge criticized the U.S. networks, including his own, for failing to report on major events abroad and show what they mean to Americans. In addition to Savidge, the program is hiring seasoned producers from the news divisions of the commercial networks. It will be exec-produced by Marc Rosenwasser, who spent 16 years at NBC News and went on to become a senior producer on the CBS Evening News.

Brian B.