Manuchar Kvirkelia, a Georgian, won gold in Greco-Roman wrestling. He was just one of the athletes from a league of nations making the parade to the platform, as sports that used to be dominated by just a few countries now see gold go global. In swimming, Australia's Stephanie Rice set a world record in the 200-meter individual medley, a bit after China's Liu Zige set her own world record in the 200-meter butterfly and Japan's Kosuke Kitojima set an Olympic record in the 200-meter breast stroke. A bit later, France's Alain Bernard won the 100-meter freestyle. The gold in judo went to Masae Ueno, whose home country, Japan, often sets the gold standard in the sport. And one of the host country's top athletes, male gymnast Yang Wei, was inhospitable to the competition, coolly collecting an individual all-around gold after his team had done the same earlier in the week.
And just as most Americans have come to accept and expect the changing face of the country, many seemed just fine with a night when the focus wasn't solely on the red, white and blue winning gold, silver and bronze.
To be sure, however, it still helps to have the Yanks tugging at the nation's heartstrings as they tear up on the medal podium after tearing up the competition in the pool or gym. Ratings fell 25% from NBC's big Tuesday night to a 9.4/27 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. Some of this was to be expected, as viewers take a breather after staying up successive nights to see Michael Phelps and the U.S. gymnastics team in some of the game's glamorous matchups. But the Olympics coverage still lapped TV rivals by a wide margin, with ratings that were 129% higher than the combined competition of CBS (1.4/4), ABC (1.3/4), Fox (1.0/3) and the CW (.4/1).
Many options, few takers
Of course, the non-Olympic networks didn't exactly put out an Olympic effort, as only two shows (CBS's "Greatest American Dog" and ABC's "Primetime: Crime," both 1.3/4) were originals. The rest were repeats, including reruns or reality on ABC ("Wife Swap," 1.2/4, and "Supernanny," 1.3/4) and the CW ("America's Next Top Model" and "The Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious," both .4/1). Not that CBS and Fox had any better luck with dramas, as "Criminal Minds" (1.5/4) and "CSI: NY" (1.3/4) on CBS and "Bones" (1.2/4) and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (.8/2) on Fox were non-factors as well.
Despite the dispatch with which the demographic traits of the nation are changing, Americans still have a generation or two to get used to the new neighbors. Olympic viewers, conversely, had only one night to go from celebrating Mr. Phelps and Misty May-Treanor to celebrating Mr. Kvirkelia and Ms. Ueno, among others. As in most nations, nationalism is natural in America, but we've generally welcomed newcomers, be it in our towns or on our TV sets.
But just in case the "United Nations" of athletes doesn't continue to unite this nation of immigrants in the same numbers as it did at the beginning of the Beijing games, NBC has a star from central casting, swimmer Mr. Phelps, who looks like the boy next door, but with otherworldly talent. He'll be back doing the backstroke, breast stroke, butterfly and freestyle Thursday night as he goes for gold medal No. 6 of these Olympics in the men's 200 Individual Medley.
WHAT TO WATCH:
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.
Friday: Olympic Fever? Fans have been focused on "split times" in the pool, tracking a swimmer's pace and progress every length. This weekend marks an Olympics split time, as action moves to the track, which will dominate week two from Beijing. More Olympic fatigue? Fox runs an NFL pre-season game, this time with the clash of the Titans of Tennessee and the Raiders of Oakland.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
With the Olympics the only sporting event with a dual-gender demographic profile, will Fox be able to peel off male viewers with NFL preseason games?
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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.