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Primed for Delay

TIMES STAFF WRITER

NBC promos before and during the Games will tout the network’s Winter Olympics coverage as live, but that won’t be the case on the West Coast.

The promos will say prime-time broadcasts will begin at 8 p.m. in the Eastern time zone and 7:30 in the Pacific time zone. But there no doubt will be some confusion, even with graphic reminders that the telecasts are delayed here. The odd starting time of 7:30 won’t help matters either.

Dick Ebersol, NBC Sports chairman, wanted live telecasts throughout the country. “This was one battle I lost,” he says.

The West Coast stations, among them NBC-owned Channel 4 in Los Angeles, wanted the later starting time, and the network gave them what they wanted.

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Randy Falco, NBC president, said, “If you ask somebody if they’d rather have an event live or on tape, their answer is, of course, they’d rather have it live.

“If you explain to them that having it live on the West Coast it may be on at 5 o’clock, which means they won’t be able to watch it, they go, ‘Oh, then I’d rather have it on tape.’

“So our local affiliates, along with myself, believe we are servicing our viewers better when we put it on at a time when they’re available to view it.”

Paula Madison, general manager at Channel 4, says that viewership is 18% greater between 8-11 p.m. than it is between 5-8 p.m.

The station and its parent company want as many eyeballs watching the Olympics as they can get. More eyeballs mean more money from advertising.

NBC, which is hoping for a nightly audience of 59 million viewers, reportedly has told advertisers it is counting on an average rating of about 17.8 for its prime-time coverage. That’s a pretty hefty goal. CBS averaged a 16.3 for the 1998 Nagano Games.

One thing that could help drive the ratings up is less prime-time coverage. NBC had five hours of prime-time coverage a night from the Summer Olympics at Atlanta and Sydney, Australia, running from 7 p.m. to midnight, but will have only 31/2 hours of prime-time coverage a night from Salt Lake City.

It will run from 7:30-11 p.m. on the West Coast on most nights and 8-11:30 in the East. There are a few nights in which prime-time coverage will begin at 8 in the West.

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Because there will also be coverage on CNBC and MSNBC and because of a considerable amount of repeat programming, there will be a total of 3751/2 hours of coverage during the 17 days of the Games, three times more than from Nagano.

Of the 3751/2 hours, 207 will be on cable and 1681/2 on NBC. Repeated programming includes overnight replays of the prime-time shows.

CBS had 129 hours of coverage from Nagano, 110 from Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994 and 107 from Albertville, France, in ’92.

MSNBC, available in 74 million homes, will cover such sports as curling, biathlon, cross-country skiing and hockey.

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CNBC, available in 83 million homes, will provide nearly wall-to-wall hockey coverage.

“For hockey fans, it’s a dream come true,” said Molly Solomon, coordinating producer of NBC’s cable coverage.

Jim Lampley, working his 11th Olympics, will serve as host of all the weekday cable coverage. He’ll be on 11 hours a day.

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Local Coverage

Channel 4 will supplement the network coverage with plenty of its own.

The station will kick things off Friday at 6:30 p.m. with an hour-long special, “Fred Roggin’s Road to Salt Lake City.” The program will feature 13 Olympic athletes, 11 from Southern California.

Following the Roggin special will be NBC’s coverage of the opening ceremony, which will be repeated at 1:39 a.m.

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Prime-time coverage will be repeated throughout the Games, following a 35-minute local news break and the network’s late-night Olympic coverage.

That means no Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien during the Games.

Also, Channel 4, which is sending eight anchors and reporters to Salt Lake City, will have its own show, “Channel 4 News: Olympic Edition” nightly from 7-7:30 beginning Saturday.

This show will be anchored by Chuck Henry and Michele Ruiz. Pat O’Brien will serve as a special correspondent, contributing one segment each night.

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The 4 and 6 p.m. newscasts will originate from Salt Lake City, and the morning, midday, 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts will include reports from there.

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Fewer Features

As for NBC’s coverage, Ebersol says there will still be an emphasis on storytelling, but there will be less time for feature profiles.

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“We have lots of live sport to cover and most nights we’re on the air in prime time for 31/2 hours, as opposed to five hours per night from Sydney and Atlanta,” he said.

“So with fewer hours, we’ll have fewer features and will rely more on our announcers to carry the load of storytelling.

“More than half the profiles will be on foreign athletes, which was the case in Sydney.”

Ebersol stressed that NBC will not go out of its way to manufacture or inflame patriotic moments.

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“We will cover the stories that occur naturally and honestly,” he said. “These Games do have the potential to serve as a healing event in particularly troubling times.”

He called security at Salt Lake City “tight but polite.”

“It still feels strange to go the men’s room and see Army men with 16-millimeter rifles hanging at their sides,” he said.

Ebersol said a piece on security will air just before the opening ceremony.

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As for breaking news, Ebersol said, “There is no question, if it’s real news, we step aside. News correspondents Sara James, Bob Hagar and Kelly O’Donnell will be part of our team.”

Hagar will do the piece on security.

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Innovations

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Most of the innovations seen during the Games will be in the area of graphics.

Ski jumping will feature “first-and-10" type technology so the viewer knows how far a jumper must go to take the lead, although there are points awarded for style too.

Speedskating will feature continuous mph readings, and there will be lane identification flags, as seen during the swimming competition at Sydney, to show the nation of each skater.

The bobsled, luge and skeleton coverage will be augmented by eight “speed traps,” which will offer continuous speed readings.

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The Talent

Bob Costas will be working his fifth Olympics for NBC and fourth as the prime-time host.

The big news is that he’ll be joined by Jim McKay, on loan from ABC.

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McKay, 80, entertained reporters during a news conference that was televised to NBC stations last week.

When asked what his role will be at Salt Lake City, he said:

“Well, remember Ross Perot’s running mate [James B. Stockdale]? He said, ‘Who am I and why am I here?’ With the tone he used, it didn’t come out right and the press had a lot of fun with that.

“Well, that’s sort of the way I feel.”

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McKay said he wasn’t sure what his role would be “until we start doing it.”

Said Ebersol, who broke into the business as an Olympic researcher when McKay was the host at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, “We are absolutely thrilled to have Jim, and we owe a big debt of gratitude to ABC and [ABC Sports President] Howard Katz for letting Jim join us.”


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