Boitano goes down, and takes Saturday night's ratings with him

February 18, 1994|By Phil Jackman

The TV Repairman:

Someone, probably Coroebus, first winner of a gold medal 2,870 years ago, once uttered, "This is the Olympics, anything can happen."

How true, how true.

"Tonight, they're burning up the ice," the advertisement in TV Guide said. "Will Brian Boitano get the edge?" it wanted to know.

After a nice setup for the men's short program the night before, CBS was going to grab a prime-time rating last night previously ** unheard of in Winter Olympics history.

Riding the wings of figure skating's not sudden but alarming popularity, the viewership figured to be huge, an impressive breakthrough until next week when the Tonya vs. Nancy show might do final episode of "The Fugitive" numbers.

What a lineup. Besides Boitano, Olympic and pro champion for )) years, there were four-time world champion Kurt Browning and Viktor Petrenko, defending Olympic and world champ. And, oh yeah, a couple more young and strong contenders.

Tilt!

It was early afternoon (our time) yesterday and Boitano was the first to take the ice. Talk about a rock. This guy's Gibraltar, he never falls. A bad performance is when he wobbles. He fell just moments into his program attempting a triple jump.

Twenty minutes later, Petrenko didn't go so far as to polish the ice with his britches, but his effort was sloppy enough that he ended up a slot behind Boitano's eighth-place standing. Browning finished back with the fuzzy-cheeked teen-agers from Belarus in the No. 12 hole.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and . . . television producers.

Of course it was a big story, the favorites, the marquee names pulling a fade scarcely before the competition had begun. And CBS was all over it last night. But with the "draws" out of medal contention, where does that leave the Saturday prime-time show, the concluding men's free skate?

"New stars coming along is always exciting for the fans," said anetwork spokesman, through a stiff upper (and lower) lip.

Boitano takes a tumble, good grief. To "honor" the occasion, American Movie Classics showed "The Fall of the Roman Empire" last night. To the skating crowd, the events were equal in magnitude.

But while CBS, to its credit, got the pictures of the Boitano and Petrenko wrecks out of the way early, instead of stringing viewers along until about 10:30, as usual, the network gained a reprieve as a new guard moved front and center.

Canadian Elvis Stojko, second and a good bet for the gold, and American Scott Davis, fourth and with a decent chance to medal, led a charge of 20-years-olds carrying the ratings banner now.

The network, already beating the drums for the dance competition under way today, is confident it has at least a hit, not a mega-hit for tomorrow night.

That's good because, thing is, even Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean have problems spicing up the opening compulsory dances.

* One thing you have to admire about TNT and its unstinting coverage of the hockey tournament afternoons is its true (red, white and) blue attitude toward Team USA.

Talk about seeing a glass half empty and rejoicing that it's half filled, Nick Charles made the Americans' third straight come-from-behind tie sound like the second best thing since "Miracle on Ice."

Hey, when your bread-and-butter event is hockey, as is the case for TNT, you're not about to brush it aside and hope you can coax people into adopting biathlon or men's doubles luge as their passion.

Winners of eight of 10 games against Canada in pre-Olympic scrimmaging, the United States was fortunate to tie, waiting until the last 28 seconds to score the equalizer.

In the evening, CBS wrapped the crucial match up in a three-minute package. Which tells you it never again is going to go for the story line that the United States can pull a gold-medal performance at any time and folks from coast-to-coast will be tuning in faithfully no matter what.

Once again, and it's wearing awfully thin about now, Kvitjell was the site of heroics by Tommy Moe, the Alaskan scooping up his second medal, a silver, in the men's Super-G.

I'm not saying it's time to move off that stretch of mountain to the north and west of Lillehammer, but the course is becoming more familiar than the ice and snow still clogging some of the streets here.

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