- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2010

NBCs coverage of the Vancouver Olympics has been dismissed as overproduced, jingoistic and predictable, but despite the criticism, the network is scoring big with viewers — including a rare ratings victory Wednesday night over “American Idol.”

And it wasn’t even close: Wednesday night’s Olympics, according to Nielsen Medias overnight numbers, drew 30.1 million viewers to 18.4 million for “Idol.”

It’s the first time in six years anything has beaten “Idol,” and that may have as much to do with the rock-star appeal of snowboarder Shaun White as it does with the Games. But NBC’s ratings have been stronger than expected all week.

The opening ceremonies on Friday topped 30 million viewers, and ratings since have been about 25 percent higher than the 2006 Torino Games. NBC easily won every night until running into “Idol” on Tuesday.

But Wednesday’s Olympics broadcast featured live coverage of superstar White’s tour-de-force in the halfpipe and taped coverage of Lindsey Vonn’s gut-wrenching gold-medal downhill run.

NBC has taken some heat for its overly polished taped packages, but Vonn’s run was worth watching no matter how much lard Costas and company slathered on.

NBC built up to Vonn’s courageous run by showing viewers what Vonn had to beat: teammate Julie Mancuso’s silver-medal run and the dangerous mountain itself. The broadcast included extraordinary footage of a string of spectacular crashes by other skiers.

And after a week of speculation about Vonn’s injured right shin, viewers could see for themselves the pain the gold-medalist was in when she whooshed across the finish line on one ski.

But the night’s star — and undoubtedly the key to the blockbuster ratings — was White, who is to snowboarding and winter sports what Tiger was a few years back to golf.

The hugely talented redhead is redefining his sport and attracts a hip California surfer dude demographic that probably couldn’t have cared less about winter sports before.

Before the Vancouver Games, there was talk of banning White’s signature move, the double cork. White made that twisting, spinning, midair spectacle look utterly effortless on Wednesday night, but it’s the gold-plated ratings that will quell any future talk of putting the brakes on White and his gravity-defying cohorts.

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