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CBS, TNT Will Telecast Olympics

January 30, 1998

CBS and TNT are sticking to a proven formula for the Olympics.

Take a healthy dose of figure skating and features, mix that with a lot of sports Americans will watch only once every four years, show them mostly on tape delay and hope the viewers flock to their televisions.

Even without Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, CBS will feature figure skating in prime time on 10 of the 16 nights from Nagano, which is 14 hours ahead of the East Coast. TNT, which has weekday afternoon rights, will show a half-hour daily figure skating show.

``Figure skating is THE Olympic sport for summer or winter,″ said Jim Nantz, CBS’ prime-time host. ``It is the most preferred sport for the American audience. We will obviously ride it long and hard.″

Both networks will show features about athletes to make a pitch to women, who will make up about 60 percent of the audience. But CBS wants to avoid the tear-jerkers that have become an Olympic staple.

``We’ve tried to stay away from some of the cookie-cutter features that have been done in the past with staged shots, over dramatization, soft filter and heavy orchestra music,″ said CBS Olympic producer Rick Gentile.

Outside of Alpine skiing and the opening ceremony, CBS’ prime-time event coverage will be taped, as it was in Albertville and Lillehammer. The skiing should be a challenge for CBS, which has not broadcast the sport live before.

CBS has practiced with live-to-tape shows, but that safety net won’t be there in Japan. Gentile may switch to tape on skiing if he misses an important event during a commercial or other break.

But he promises CBS will not confuse viewers. In Atlanta, NBC announcers often did not differentiate between live and taped coverage.

``When we do live, which won’t be much, we will say it. If we go back to tape we will say it,″ Gentile said. ``If we don’t say it is live it won’t be live. There won’t be any attempt to convince people that something is live. We’re not going to make a big deal about it.″

West Coast viewers excited about live Olympic coverage be warned _ you won’t get it. Any event live in the East will be shown three hours later in the West.

CBS will also feature live late-night coverage of the men’s hockey tournament, featuring NHL stars for the first time. While hockey fans will have the drama of live coverage, they will have to contend with games that don’t end until after 2 a.m.

``I don’t think we have any choice but to do hockey on late night,″ Gentile said. ``That’s when the games take place. The only alternative would be to hold it until the next night on tape when everybody would know what’s happened.″

For those unable or unwilling to stay up all night, TNT will show some taped hockey in the afternoon.

Unlike the summer games that had 24 sports in Atlanta, the Winter Olympics have only 14, making coverage more manageable. While viewers shouldn’t expect wire-to-wire coverage of curling, they will get a flavor of most events, even ones like luge and biathlon.

``The rank-and-file audience is not familiar at all with these sports,″ said TNT host Jim Lampley. ``But there is a similar feeling to what made ‘Wide World of Sports’ so popular. People want to see something different,″

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