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NBC seems to be lost in the 'Twilight Zone' of the Olympics

NBC or Channel 2 executives are kidding themselves if they think anyone here who cares won't know how Sasha Cohen, Kimmie Meissner and Emily Hughes performed this afternoon before the taped coverage airs.

The local NBC Olympic preview show anchored by Scott Levin and Maryalice Demler and airing at 7:30 nightly on Channel 2 is called "The Olympic Zone." So let's label NBC's determination to keep same-day results a secret from viewers before its prime-time coverage begins "The Twilight Zone."

The late Rod Serling would have been impressed Tuesday by the gymnastics that NBC went through in its impossible attempt to keep suspense in its prime-time coverage of the ladies' figure skating competition.

It is a losing battle everywhere, but nowhere more than in Western New York, because CBC's live coverage is available earlier in the day and there is a skater with local roots, Meissner.

Cohen's first-place performance and Meissner's fifth-place performance were carried Tuesday afternoon by CBC. But at 6 p.m., well after the competition was over, the "Olympic Ice" program on USA Network featured Dick Button and Scott Hamilton "previewing" what was going to happen that night even though it had happened already.

And during "The NBC Nightly News" at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, anchor Brian Williams visually revealed the results in two events but ignored the one most everyone was interested in -- women's figure skating.

Later, "Nightly News" bizarrely carried a long feature on Cohen that mentioned her past falls in big events without revealing she had at least overcome them for one night.

I suspect NBC will time travel and enter "The Twilight Zone" again tonight when its coverage of the ladies competition ends with the free skate that determines who earns the medals. The performances from Turin undoubtedly will air in the afternoon on Canadian television, but you'll probably have to wait until after 11 p.m. to see Cohen and Meissner skate on NBC.

Considering the unusual circumstances here pertaining to CBC and Meissner, the local NBC affiliate, Channel 2, should realize that giving out the news at 6 p.m. of how Cohen and Meissner performed this afternoon might actually drive viewers to its later coverage.

If Cohen were to win gold and Meissner were to get any medal, I bet telling viewers what happened would increase the local audience for tonight's coverage, not decrease it.

As expected, Tuesday's coverage of the skating, the speed-skating feud between Americans Shani Davis (silver medal) and Chad Hedrick (bronze) and the surprise silver medal won by American bobsledders Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming fueled NBC's ratings.

Channel 2 averaged a 16.2 Tuesday, peaking with a 20.3 at 10:15 p.m. and finishing with a 19.7 at 11:15, when Cohen skated.

However, Rohbock, Cohen, Meissner and the other Olympians couldn't beat the performance of the 12 ladies on "American Idol" Tuesday from 8 to 10 p.m. "Idol" averaged a 19.9 in those hours on Fox affiliate WUTV to a 13.9 for the Olympics.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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