Dick Button’s countdown to Winter Olympics uplift


Dick Button is speaking from Vancouver, where he will offer his immediately insightful and honest commentary on Olympic figure skating for NBC.

“We need the Olympics,” he said on the eve of the opening ceremony for the Winter Games.

Button, 80, has been around 17 of these Olympic Games, and if you want to suggest that the Olympics don’t matter so much anymore, what with television coverage tape-delayed (at least for those of us in the West -- you know, the time zone where Vancouver, Canada, is) and scattered around various NBC platforms, don’t suggest that to Button.

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, has already said these Olympics are going to lose about $200 million for the network.

With no premier U.S. ladies’ figure skater to pique the interest of the casual fan -- no Nancy Kerrigan or Tonya Harding, no Michelle Kwan or Sasha Cohen -- and with skier Lindsey Vonn battling a bruised shin and maybe unable to achieve a transcendent individual performance the way Michael Phelps did in Beijing, it seems these Olympics are a recipe for low ratings.

If Jay Leno ruined the NBC prime-time schedule, what will happen if Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu don’t win medals? Conan O’Brien on the luge?

“Ultimately, there will be a moment or a performance that will arise and will lift your heart, and that’s what counts,” Button said. “In this world, if your heart gets lifted, even for a brief time, it’s well worth it.”

For those of us who will watch every moment possible, live or tape delayed, who get wrapped up in seeing someone skate round and round for 10,000 meters, mesmerized by the clip-clap of the skate and the tick-tock of the clock, for those of us who will examine on what edge a skater lands a jump as well as figure out how many sequins Johnny Weir has sewn onto his costume, this will be the best month of the year.

For us, NBC offers Button and much more. If you want to know what the Olympics mean to NBC, check out the lineup.

Best baseball studio show host in the world? That would be Bob Costas, and he’s the prime-time host.

Owner of the most memorable Olympic call ever, the “Do you believe in miracles?” exclamation from the U.S. men’s hockey upset of the Soviet Union? Al Michaels will serve as the NBC daytime host. He’s been missing from Olympic coverage for 22 years, which doesn’t seem possible. And certainly not right.

Tennis star Mary Carillo will do oddball reports and be the late night host. Cris Collinsworth will be a correspondent, fresh off his successful debut season as the NBC “Sunday Night Football” analyst. And if the voice of curling sounds familiar to us here in the Southland, it should. It belongs to Channel 4 sports anchor Fred Roggin.

Danica Patrick!

As if diving into the Olympics isn’t enough sports excitement, there’s Danica. ESPN2 will have coverage of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday at 10:15 a.m. That’s where Danica Patrick will race, in kind of the minor league warmup to Sunday’s big race, the Daytona 500 at 9 a.m. on Channel 11. Which will get higher ratings? Even though Fox isn’t televising Patrick’s race, its advance of the weekend coverage is highlighted by this first line:

“DW: I believe Danica Can Succeed in NASCAR.” DW is Darrell Waltrip. He was a pretty good driver himself.

Kobe Bryant!

As much as Patrick will be talked about on the Daytona 500 broadcast, we suspect the injured Kobe Bryant, despite not playing, will still be talked about during TNT’s coverage of the NBA All-Star Game at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Marv Albert will have the play-by-play alongside analysts Doug Collins and Reggie Miller.

Versus vs. DirecTV

For those of you who have asked, spokesmen for Versus, which will broadcast much of the NHL playoffs, and DirecTV say there still is no carriage agreement and nothing seems imminent. Cycling fans, beware. Versus is the network of the Tour of California, Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.