The pictures from the night's two big events provided balance as well, as the ponytailed pixies contrasted with the turbo-powered Michael Phelps, who won his fourth and fifth gold medals of the Beijing games, keeping him on pace for his historic quest for eight and making him the athlete with the most gold medals ever.
Live from Beijing
Both events took place in the Beijing morning, which made them live in Eastern and Central prime time, helping NBC attain its highest 2008 Olympics ratings yet, as last night's events ended up with a 12.4/34 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.
This was an increase of 12% over the similar night in Athens, continuing a trend of this year's games outpacing the 2004 Summer Olympics. This is due in part to a ratings rise in nearly every demographic. But it is especially attributable to the same kind of balance shown on screen in the cut-aways between the balance beam and in the pool: The gender balance is better, with men 18-49 ratings up about 21%, which closes the gap to a 91 index compared to women 18-49 ratings.
Of course, the female demo is up, too, about 10%. But either NBC's balance of sports, or an athletic rarity -- trash talking between the French and American swimming teams -- has captivated more males than Athens. And while guys' Olympic fever may fizzle, it also could heat up further, as next week brings boxing and track-and-field finals, among other sports, all of which traditionally do better with male viewers.
Left in the dust
As for the performance of NBC's rival networks? In a word, unbalanced. No network averaged more than a 1.6/4, which was CBS's overall delivery after running repeats of "NCIS" (1.4/4) and "Without a Trace" (1.1/3) around a new episode of "Big Brother," which was the highest-rated non-Olympic program, posting a 2.4/5.
ABC was third with a 1.5/4, with two first-run series, "Wanna Bet?" (no, not against the Olympics) and "Primetime: Medical Mysteries," each delivering a 1.4/4. And even though a repeat of "Wipeout" was ABC's highest-rated show of the night, its mud baths were no match for the pool in Beijing, as the show was 44% below its average with a 1.8/5.
Fox was fourth with a 1.2/3, as "House" (1.4/4) led into "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (1.0/2). And the CW (.4/1) finished fifth, with repeats of "Beauty and the Geek" (.4/1) and "Reaper" (.5/1).
The balance beam will get another workout in the next few days, as the men's and women's individual champions get gold. For the remainder of the Olympics, NBC has to hope its balance stays as strong as the eventual winners.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Wednesday: Olympic fever? If the women's 4x200m relay race is anything close to exciting as the men's, NBC may decide to program swimming more often. They already know about the popularity of gymnastics, which will make the men's all-around competition another featured event.
Olympic fatigue? Watch "the stuff that dreams are made of" – no, not gold medals, but rather "The Maltese Falcon" on TCM.
Thursday: Olympic fever? Live coverage of the glam event of the games, the women's individual all-around competition in gymnastics. And, oh yeah, Michael Phelps goes for the gold. Again.
Olympic fatigue? Well, maybe a break from the Olympics, but not from sports: Fox runs preseason NFL with the Carolina Panthers practicing against (NFL preseason isn't really a game, is it?) the Philadelphia Eagles.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Particularly weak counter-programming on rival networks should keep Olympic fever high.
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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.