Riding wave of interest

The Baltimore Sun

Looking through the sports media notebook while wondering when The Sun's Beijing correspondents are going to get an interview with General Tso:

* Each time Michael Phelps gets near any water, NBC wants to be there. The network has announced plans for a reality series, Two Parts Hydrogen, One Part Oxygen, All Parts Phelps, featuring his encounters not only in the practice pool but also with showers, baths, sprinklers and even spilled glasses of water by clumsy waiters.

No? What NBC really has announced is the network will carry swimming's world championships in Rome next year and the U.S. championships in 2009 through 2011. Phelps already has committed to swim in Rome. The network also has the rights to the next Summer Olympics in 2012 in London.

"The whole world watched as Michael Phelps took his sport to a new level and introduced a generation of fans to swimming through his extraordinary achievements," Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, said in a news release. "His accomplishments transcend sports and are, in fact, a cultural phenomenon. We're greatly looking forward to following the next chapter in his career."

Phelps has said he wants to change the sport, and NBC's announcement shows he already has.

NBC also is hawking a DVD of Phelps' highlights from Beijing - Greatest Olympic Champion...The Inside Story. It sounds like a perfect accompaniment to the commemorative Phelps special section appearing in Sunday's Sun. (Hey, I can do a little hawking, too.)

* WBAL's ratings for NBC's prime-time Olympic coverage have fallen off a bit since Phelps stopped swimming, but they remain high.

Through Wednesday, Channel 11 had averaged 22.7 percent of the Baltimore audience for the 13 nights, which ranks among the top five in the country. Through Saturday, the last night Phelps competed, WBAL's average was 23.8. On the next four nights since then, the average was 20.3.

Still, overall WBAL is averaging about five times the audience of its closest competitor. The other five broadcast stations in town - WJZ, WMAR, WBFF, WNUV and WUTB - have averaged 1.7 in prime time during the Olympics, with Channel 13's 4.5 the high.

* What's that you say? You want more ratings numbers? I can't keep up with you people.

On Saturday night, when the Ravens played a preseason game, the Olympics got a 22.4. The Ravens-Vikings on WMAR drew a 7.3. The Orioles on WJZ got 1.8. (The Ravens simulcast on MASN2 barely registered - 0.1.)

During the quarter-hour on Saturday night when Phelps was actually swimming for his eighth gold medal, WBAL's rating zoomed to 37.2, with a 59 share, meaning nearly 60 percent of all televisions in use were tuned to the Olympics. That share was the second-highest for a quarter-hour in Baltimore in the past year, surpassed only by a 67 during the Super Bowl in February.

And for all of these ratings, you and I have to thank Kouri "The Ratings Diva" Cataldo of WBAL.

* When Bela Karolyi was talking about the women's gymnastics judging and called it a "rip-off," he left hanging the idea of some kind of willful act to deprive American Alicia Sacramone of a medal by giving too high a score to a Chinese competitor. Host Bob Costas tried to temper Karolyi's comments by saying that having the Olympics in Beijing didn't put more Chinese judges on the panel and offering that Karolyi might have just been indicating poor decisions by the judges. But "rip-off" is what Karolyi said. Too bad he didn't explain who stole Sacramone's medal and why.

And if it was indeed stolen, somebody better watch out. Gymnast Sacramone could be related to Johnny Sac from The Sopranos.

* Team handball has been around for a while in the Olympics, but I still haven't quite figured out all the rules, such as just how much contact constitutes a foul and how many steps a player is allowed to take after a dribble. So, come to think of it, this sport is sort of like the NBA.

* I also don't know a whole lot about field hockey, though I did have a girlfriend in high school who played, but mainly I remember how good she looked in that kilt. Anyway, the short piece of NBC's field hockey coverage I sampled featured something familiar to just about any sports broadcast - one of the commentators complaining about how bad the officiating was.

* Chris Russo, the canine half of the long-running Mike and the Mad Dog sports talk show on New York's WFAN, this week got his own show on Sirius XM satellite radio. Russo and Mike Francesa lasted 19 years on WFAN until their recent breakup, and so they gained a reputation beyond the reach of their radio station. They represented the archetypes of sports radio. Depending on your viewpoint: Russo speaks with the passion of the true fan and Francesa displays a depth of sports knowledge, or one is an overreacting loudmouth and the other a condescending know-it-all. It's just a matter of perspective.


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