NBC's figure skating director excited for main event
Posted: Wednesday February 22, 2006 8:41PM; Updated: Thursday February 23, 2006 12:13PM
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 11:38 p.m. local, Day 12
Real American Idol: Sasha Cohen's quest for gold should give NBC its highest ratings of a sluggish Winter Olympics for the network.
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As the supervising producer and director of NBC's figure skating coverage, David Michaels will guide American viewers Thursday night through triple lutzes performed by Sasha Cohen, double axels executed by Irina Slutskaya and each of Shizuka Arakawa's dizzying spirals. The network is employing 2,798 people in Turin, but one staffer really stands out, at least on Thursday, when Michaels should be dubbed General Electric Employee No. 1.
Of NBC's 418 hours from Turin, no prime-time hours are more important than the ladies' free program. "I want the best possible skating with the most possible drama," Michaels told SI.com on Wednesday when asked for his ideal broadcast. "We want maximum drama, maximum on-the-edge-of-your-seat stuff, and whatever unfolds, unfolds. Here is this gigantic event: Did we capture its essence?"
The "gigantic" event could not come at a better time for the network. Television executives and their communication departments have a knack for spinning ratings with the pizzazz of Paul Oakenfold and Fatboy Slim, but I don't need to tell you the television story of these Games because every newspaper in North America has already done so:
RATINGS OFF, EBERSOL SEES UPSIDE, the Chicago Tribune reported on Feb. 20.
'IDOL' TAKES 3-0 LEAD ON OLYMPICS, the Dallas Morning News' Web site declared earlier Wednesday.
Through the first 11 days of the Olympics, NBC was averaging a 12.3 rating for the Games, down 32.4 percent from the same point in Salt Lake City and down 25 percent from Nagano, according to the Sports Business Daily.
Much has been written about counter programming to the Games by NBC's competitors, and the sad and simple fact is we live in a nation in which Ryan Seacrest is more popular than aerialist Ryan St. Onge.
"Our competitors have very, very, very strong programming," NBC Universal Sports & Olympics Chair Dick Ebersol said on a conference call earlier this week. And it's only the beginning. If you think the other guys lined up killer programming against the Turin Games, well, just wait for Beijing. Don't be surprised if ABC orders up 13 episodes of Snowboardcross with the Stars.
Of course, Olympic figure skating has remained immune to all counter-programming. In Salt Lake City, the ladies' final propelled NBC to its best Thursday-night Nielsen rating in four years. More than 79 million people watched at least part of the telecast, which featured Sarah Hughes upsetting Slutskaya and Michelle Kwan for the gold. The final Nielsen rating that night (26.8) was a monster. Why does figure skating work as a television sport?
"Because you can see their faces," Michaels says. "It's beautiful, and there's instant tension. It's four-and-half minutes, and everybody's lifetime is in front of them. You watch a downhill run, it may last a minute and a half, and you can't see their face. It's exciting, but figure skating has body language and performance."
If Michaels, the younger brother of sportscaster Al Michaels, is nervous about Thursday night, he's not showing it.
"This may sound crazy, but I can't think of a more comfortable zone than when I am directing and doing my producing job at a big event like this," he says. "The pressure I feel is our own pressure. I care about the ratings, but as long as it's programmed properly, we'll deliver the programming."