Glorious Olympics gave NBC5 17-day ratings bonanza


Veteran lead Olympics television anchor Bob Costas signed off for the last time from London’s 2012 Summer Olympic Games  at 11:30 p.m. local time Sunday night.  And with  a terse, but heartfelt farewell, NBC brought down the curtain on an astonishing cavalcade of Summer Olympic coverage on multiple TV channels and online.

It was more Olympic coverage more of the time than anyone probably could have wanted. 

But it was all there, including, most unfortunately, a closing ceremony that was even worse than the opening ceremony — a low point that we honestly didn’t think could be matched.  Let alone topped.

But a British TV and stage director (and former ballet dancer) named Kim Gavin managed to make Danny Boyle’s disaster of an opening ceremony almost look great by comparison to what he put forth at the closing.

Suffice it to say Gavin simply offered up well over two hours of music and acts purported to represent an overview of England’s contribution to pop music.  But it was too much of the same kind of stuff.  And it grew monotonous fast. 

Even Ryan Seacrest sounded bored out of his skull as he announced act after act on NBC’s heavily-edited (thank God) delayed telecast of the closing ceremony.  The live stream of the event online ran over three hours.  NBC slashed it to about two hours. And it still felt long.

But the Games themselves — the glorious athletic competition — were a huge success with American viewers, who tuned in to the tune of 30 million plus every night on NBC to watch America compete against the world.

Ch. 5 News viewership left competitors in the dust

Co-anchors Rob Stafford and Allison Rosati.And we can now report that all those eager viewers produced a huge windfall for local NBC outlet WMAQ-Channel 5’s late local newscast with co-anchors Allison Rosati and Rob Stafford.

From July 27 through August 12, Channel 5’s late news (which typically aired at 11 p.m. during the Games) scored a 9.4 rating that left all competitors in the dust. Long No. 1 WLS-Channel 7 notched a 6.4 rating for its 10 p.m. late news over the course of the Games, and WBBM-Channel 2 could do no better than 3.6 rating.

Channel 5 got all the sampling it could possibly have hoped for. Now we will find out whether the station can finally transition those Olympic samplers into loyal watchers and give the station a shot at overtaking top-ranked Channel 7 on a regular basis.

In the wake of the Games, WMAQ general manager Larry Wert (who underwent back surgery while the Games were in progress) was cautiously optimistic. 

“The entire 17 days gave us remarkable numbers and viewer feedback,” said Wert, who added “the ratings hangover we are hoping to see will take place over time.”

Sustained high viewership depends on new fall shows

Just how much of its Olympic ratings bump Channel 5’s late local news can hold on to will depend in large part on what kind of new season of prime time programming NBC delivers.

There have been plenty of turkeys in the batches of prime time programs on NBC in recent seasons. And those lousy shows have driven down Channel 5’s prime time numbers, and by extension, the ratings for its late news product — a principal source of ad revenue for the local station.

NBC tried like crazy to whet the viewing public’s appetite for its upcoming roster of fall season shows by incessantly promoting several of them throughout the Olympics telecasts. Full episodes of a  couple of new NBC series, including what looks to be a dreadful “Go On” starring Matthew Perry, were even aired in their entirety during the Olympics.

But that ploy may have done more harm than good.  The pablum that constitutes so much of prime time programming nowadays could only pale in juxtaposition to the grandeur of Olympic competition.

Contact Lewis Lazare at