But like Monday night's big story -- the gold, silver and bronze for the red, white and blue's Angelo Taylor, Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson -- team NBC's competition is with itself. The impressive charge out of the starting blocks has led to something more tricky. Audiences awed by the Opening Ceremonies and Michael Phelps are now getting less live coverage and heroics that span a 24-hour news cycle, not the ages.
A look at the 11-day delivery shows how ratings for the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, while still Olympian, are starting to fade in the stretch. Of the four nights of week two, only Saturday night was up, no doubt due to Michael Phelps topping the gold-medal pantheon from all the way back to the Parthenon.
Down, but still good
That 33% jump from the first Saturday night, however, contrasts with the second Friday down 17% to an 8.5/28, the second Sunday night down 18% for a 9.2/26 and last night down 16% from a week ago to an 8.9/24.
Of course, these ratings are golden in any season, not to mention the dog days when schedules are almost all reruns or reality -- or both.
And indeed, that approach characterizes NBC's competitors, which are programming like nations just happy to have a runner in a qualifying heat, with no pretense of advancing. Tuesday night was no different, as outside of CBS, which delivered a 2.0/5 for the night, the hurdles looked like mountains to jump over for Fox and ABC (both .8/2) as well as the CW (.5/1). CBS's relative success came from airing reruns, with comedies "The Big Bang Theory" (1.9/6), "How I Met Your Mother" (2.0/6), "Two and a Half Men" (2.5/7) and "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (1.9/5) leading into drama "CSI: Miami" (1.7/4).
As for Fox and the CW, each had two hours of second showings, with Fox's "Prison Break" and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" posting a .9/3 and .7/2, respectively. The CW's "Gossip Girl" and "One Tree Hill" delivered a .6/2 and .4/1.
'HSM' franchise sputters
ABC ran reality non-starter "High School Musical: Get in the Picture" (.5/2) as well as a theatrical based on a show most known from reruns, "Bewitched," which delivered a 1.0/3.
To be sure, it's only Tuesday and many memorable Olympic moments will happen over the next few days, particularly in track and field in the heat of the Bird's Nest stadium. But how those nesting at home in the air conditioning respond will ultimately determine how high the ratings rise for Beijing 2008 will be. NBC -- and no doubt the IOC, as well -- hopes audiences get a second wind and kick it in through the high hurdles of week two.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: Olympics fever? The kids are all right -- they just like different sports than their folks: BMX biking debuts at the Olympic Games.
Olympics fatigue? With Hurricane Fay making its way across Florida, it's either the worst time or the best time for PBS's "Nova," which examines Hurricane Katrina on "Storm That Drowned a City."
Wednesday: Olympics fever? The gold medal is at stake on the golden sands of beach volleyball as Americans Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor take on the home team's top seeds Tian Jia and Wang Jie.
Olympics fatigue? Take a break from the tough guys in macho sports like the hammer throw for, well, tough guy Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar" and "Key Largo" on a TCM double feature.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Sure, adding BMX into the mix is to reflect the evolving nature of sports. But it's also to add boys and young men as Olympic fans. Will it work?
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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.