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The Olympics Versus The Competition

The best competition of the Olympics may be far from Torino. On Thursday, Feb 23 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC should be airing the popular women’s figure-skating finals. Fox should have a new episode of American Idol, hosted by Ryan Seacrest (photo), and CBS has scheduled a new episode of Survivor. ABC has slated the Dancing With the Stars finale for that night but is thinking better of it. Now, that’s a battle.

Counter-programming the Olympics can be tricky. While such events as women’s figure skating are almost sure-fire ratings bonanzas, you never know what suddenly hot American athlete or new controversy is going to randomly turn an event into must-see TV for NBC.

Programmers are a competitive bunch. They’re also not stupid. Each network will decide its best course of action: schedule its own hot shows or run repeats until the Olympics are over, and come back fighting. Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori, for one, isn’t handing the nights to NBC, especially with the hot start this season for American Idol. “We think the Idol audience is unbelievably loyal,” he said recently. “This is their favorite show, and we anticipate that ratings will be solid.”

Here is a look at four nights when Olympics ratings could be especially golden and what the competition has in store.

Monday, Feb. 20

NBC PRIME TIME: On President’s Day, NBC has the gold-medal round of the ice-dancing (skating) competition. Americans could have their best chance at gold in decades, so this should be a big draw.
THE COMPETITION: While CBS will be in repeats, ABC has a two-hour Wife Swap special followed by a Bachelor special, and Fox trots out new episodes of its solid Monday-night lineup of House and 24.

Tuesday, Feb. 21:

NBC PRIME TIME: The first night of what is traditionally the Winter Olympics’ biggest event, women’s figure skating.
THE COMPETITION: Fox is going straight after Michelle Kwan and friends with a two-hour American Idol. CBS has a new Love Monkey but then airs repeats the rest of the night. ABC has originals of According To Jim and Rodney at 8 and a new Boston Legal at 10. ABC is supposed to air a new Commander in Chief at 9 p.m., but the network has not made a final decision on whether it wants to put the show against the popular figure-skating event.

Thursday, Feb. 23

NBC PRIME TIME: The finals of women’s figure skating, which should be the biggest night, ratings-wise. The competition will air at some time that evening, but NBC can spread coverage out over the night.
THE COMPETITION: If NBC has figure skating in the 8 p.m. hour, this will be the biggest battleground hour of the entire Games, as CBS has a new Survivor slotted and Fox is going with an hour of Idol. ABC has the Dancing With the Stars season finale scheduled at 8-9:30, but the network is already looking at pushing it back a week. Later in the night CBS runs repeats of CSI and Without a Trace, Fox has a repeat of Skating With Celebrities, and ABC plans an edition of Primetime.

Saturday, Feb. 25

NBC PRIME TIME: Two of the best-known U.S. Olympians could be competing for gold this night.
Apolo Anton Ohno, part of a speed-skating controversy in Salt Lake City four years ago, could be in the 500-meter finals, while the men’s slalom-skiing finals could feature Bode Miller, who gained a new level of fame recently when he told 60 Minutes about his penchant for having a few cocktails before swooshing down the slopes.
THE COMPETITION: There isn’t much of it. Saturday will be the typical mix of repeats and movies, such as ABC’s airing of theatrical film Forrest Gump.