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December 19, 2014

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Olympic Viewing: Live and die with figure skating

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Dita Alangkara / AP

Katie Uhlaender of the United States brakes after her final run during the women’s skeleton competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Highlights from television coverage of the Sochi Olympics:

SKATE OFF: Live by figure skating, die by figure skating. Friday's men's free skate competition had neither artistry nor suspense, with underwhelming performances from many of the top competitors. Figure skating is the most popular event of the Winter Olympics, so it's easy to understand why NBC locked in the final 90 minutes of its broadcast for it. When things turn out so poorly, it can't help but bring the entire broadcast down. NBC's analysts didn't hide their disappointment, although in one case maybe they should have: Scott Hamilton's nearly teary reaction to Canada's Patrick Chan succumbing to pressure and losing out on a chance to win a gold medal was over the top. Best observation came from Sandra Bezic: "Skaters of this generation tend to have computers for brains. They're counting points, instead of just skating."

WEIR WARDROBE WATCH: Johnny Weir could have gone the easy route and worn red on Valentine's Day, but instead NBC's skating analyst had a sparkling silver jacket, with what seemed to be a pearl bolo tie.

EYE ON COSTAS: Meredith Vieira was a solid pro in her first turn as prime-time Olympics host, filling in for the still-ailing Bob Costas, although she wasn't given much to do. There's been some online grumbling about NBC turning to two "Today" show hosts to sub for Costas (Matt Lauer did it the last three nights) instead of a sportscaster. But, really, what's required is an engaging MC. If NBC attracts just a sports audience to the prime-time telecast, it fails. It was smart to have a woman do the job on a night where skating dominated the agenda. Vieira is likely to be back again Saturday; NBC says Costas is improving but is still day to day.

TWO RACERS: The technology that allows NBC to superimpose another skier or sledder's ride onto another's for comparison purposes is illuminating and kinda cool. Even better that it's not overused.

SAD SIGHT: American Katie Uhlaender was already hurting, having just lost out on a medal in the women's skeleton by four one-hundredths of a point, but was keeping it together for an interview with NBC reporter Lewis Johnson. Then Johnson asked Uhlaender what she thought her father, who died last summer, would have said about her Olympics performance. That brought the tears. Yes, it was one of the emotional story lines NBC had sought to emphasize — just like silver medal-winning American Noelle Pikus-Pace's comeback from a miscarriage — but bringing it up at that point felt cruel.

TWEET OF THE NIGHT: "Does anyone else hear the timpani at the beginning of NBC's Olympic them and think, 'George, George, George of the Jungle'?"

RATINGS: Buoyed by a snowboarding sweep by three Americans, the Olympics rebounded Thursday night to an average of 22.9 million viewers, the Nielsen company said. That's down from 24.8 million viewers for the corresponding night four years ago in Vancouver, but up from 19.4 million eight years ago in Italy.

KERRIGAN VS. HARDING: NBC will likely air its 45-minute retrospective on the attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan by associates of competitor Tonya Harding on Feb. 23, the last night of the Olympics, said Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC's coverage. The 20-year anniversary piece is one of the few times Kerrigan, who is working as an NBC analyst, has spoken publicly about the attack, which became a soap opera of the 1994 Games. Bell said it could run earlier if weather forces delays in some Olympic competitions.

UPCOMING: The U.S.-Russia men's hockey game will be shown in early morning in the U.S.

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