Covering smaller events, CBS' flair is big surprise LILLEHAMMER '94

RADIO-TV

February 23, 1994|By RAY FRAGER

Last night didn't shape up as an exciting program for CBS. No glamour events, no big performances from Americans.

Well, as Gomer Pyle used to say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise." -- (And to think my parents believed I was wasting my childhood watching those sitcoms.)

The focus was on the competition, and CBS told the stories as they unfolded. There was a minimum of canned features and lots of action.

The best story of the night was in the men's 4 x 10-kilometer cross country relay.

Al Trautwig's commentary fit the race perfectly -- clean, crisp language that gave the event weight, but didn't weigh it down. The music behind the action was unobtrusive. The pictures were perfect.

With the event a three-team race much of the way among Italy, Norway and Finland, the jockeying among the athletes at times looked like a dance, with poles and skis flying in unison.

Then, there was the finish. There's a cliche about silencing a crowd, but that's exactly what the Italians did. The moment their anchor man crossed the finish .4 of a second ahead of Norway's, the deafening cheers stopped -- as if shut off by a spigot.

And, this time at least, CBS let the moment play out.

Might as well jump

The network also caught tense moments in the team ski

jumping, which came down to a huge effort by the final German and a small one by the last Japanese. Analyst Jeff Hastings may have had it right when he prefaced the final Japanese jump by saying, "His turtleneck is getting tighter."

Of course, he just could switch to a button-down shirt.

Heroic piece

Charles Kuralt presented another excellent segment last night -- though that's kind of like saying it was cold in Lillehammer yesterday.

His piece on the heroes of Telemark -- mixing interviews with the men and footage from the movie about their deeds -- was entertaining, gripping history. Even if you knew the story of the few Norwegians who knocked out a Nazi heavy- water plant, crippling the German effort to build an atomic bomb during World War II, Kuralt's retelling was worth the time.

Not buying

The Games aren't over yet, but the award for most annoying commercial has been clinched by John Hancock. That ad in which a father tells his sobbing son that things will be OK even though the father has a terminal disease reminded me of the insurance agent who once tried to sell me a life policy by bringing out clippings of Thurman Munson's plane crash. No sale here, pal.

They wuz robbed

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were interviewed by Greg Gumbel and ice dancing analyst Tracy Wilson, and the British pair let CBS, mostly in the person of Wilson, again make the case that the wrong ice dancers won the gold medal.

Maybe it's stereotypical British reserve, but at least T&D didn't whine about the judges, even with some prodding.

Numbers game

Next to Johann Olav Koss, CBS has been the biggest winner at the Winter Olympics. That continued with Monday night's prime-time ratings, a 27.8 rating and 42 share, up 28 percent from the comparable night during the 1992 Winter Games.

For 10 nights, CBS has averaged 25.9/40, 35 percent higher than the first 10 nights from Albertville.

Ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program. Shares measure the percentage among homes where television is in use. And sometimes you're just so struck by the eloquence of those sentences that you can't think of anything to add.

Looking ahead

Nancy. Tonya. Women's. Figure. Skating. You get the idea. But don't tune in tonight's CBS coverage (8-11, channels 11, 9) expecting to see them very early.

That's not to say everything else on tonight's show will be filler. Bonnie Blair goes for a fifth speed skating gold, and CBS plans a feature on her by Kuralt.

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