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NBC beats ‘American Idol’ in ratings for second time

Staff And Wire Reports

For the second time in two weeks, the previously untouchable “American Idol” television show on Fox was beaten by NBC’s Olympic coverage Thursday night. That coverage included Americans Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane going 1-2 in a Nordic combined event, the men’s aerials and, most important, the long program for the ladies in figure skating.

And the network should have strong ratings Sunday, now that the U.S. hockey team has advanced to the gold-medal game, which will be shown live in all time zones on NBC.

The U.S. will play Canada, which beat Slovakia, 3-2, in a semifinal Friday night. Last Sunday, when the U.S. beat Canada in a preliminary round game that was shown on MSNBC, the cable network recorded its second-highest rating ever.

During the 8 to 9 p.m. hour, when the Olympics went head to head with “Idol,” NBC averaged 19.2 million viewers to Idol’s 17.8 million, according to the Nielsen ratings. NBC averaged 22.9 million viewers on the night.

In a statement, Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, said the win over “American Idol” was unexpected.

“I never thought we would have the good fortune to beat the incredibly well-produced and enduring phenomenon of ‘American Idol’ even once,” Ebersol said. “But twice? . . . We are happy to rent Idol’s space for a few nights.”

The Olympics’ two wins over Idol are the first time any program has beaten the talent-finding show since May 17, 2004.

One other interesting number: NBC has been breaking down its viewership numbers by time zone. The coverage is live in the Eastern and Central zones and tape-delayed to prime time in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. So far, the tape-delayed Mountain and Pacific have been 1-2 every night. Thursday night, Mountain stayed No. 1, but the Pacific area fell behind the Central. The East just keeps finishing last.

-- Diane Pucin American ski queen Lindsey Vonn says she is in awe of Nordic combined long hill gold medalist Billy Demong.

“I love Billy,” Vonn said Friday. “He’s such a hard worker. I’ve never seen anyone like him before. I think he truly loves pain. He pushes himself to the limit every day of his life.”

Vonn remembers once filming a commercial during training in Chile.

“I was up shooting on the hill and he just hiked up the whole mountain, and around the mountain, up and down,” she said. “In the summer when I’m in the gym, he’s off doing cycling tours with Lance Armstrong and almost beating them. I’m always shocked by the physical excursion he puts himself through. I think he honestly enjoys it.”

-- Chris Dufresne Curling

Defending champion Sweden held its title beating Canada, 7-6, in the women’s final. Sweden rallied from a 6-4 deficit and needed an extra frame to claim the title. China beat Switzerland, 12-6, for the bronze.

Biathlon

Norway had an easy time of it, winning the men’s 4x7.5-kilometer with a strong anchor performance by Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. The Norwegians won by nearly 39 seconds over Austria. Russia won the bronze. The U.S. team of Lowell Bailey, Jay Hakkinen, Tim Burke and Jeremy Teela finished 13th.

-- John Cherwa


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