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`Disappointing' Olympics end for CBS

Here's the good news about the Winter Olympics for CBS - it's over.

Cursed by bad weather, time differences that made live coverage difficult and some lackluster competition, the prime-time Olympic coverage by CBS ended with the lowest ratings of any winter Games since 1968.The Olympics drew an average 16.2 prime-time rating and 26 share, forcing CBS to give millions of dollars worth of free commercial time to advertisers because the coverage did not draw the audience that was expected. Live coverage was often delayed (for example, Nagano is 16 hours ahead of Mountain Standard Time).

The ratings were 42 percent lower than the Lillehammer Games of 1994 and 13 percent below Albertville in 1992. Nielsen Media Research has been tracking Olympic coverage since 1968, and only that year's Grenoble games scored lower than Nagano.

CBS President Leslie Moonves said the network would not lose any money on the Games.

"Overall, we're not thrilled," he said Tuesday. "I wouldn't deny that the numbers have been disappointing. But we're going to do just fine."

CBS easily won last week's prime-time race with a 15.8 rating and 25 share, Nielsen said. NBC was second with an 8.5 rating and 13 share, while ABC and Fox had identical 8.4 ratings and 13 shares.

While NBC and ABC essentially conceded defeat and scheduled a steady stream of repeats during the Olympic period, Fox programmed aggressively and the strategy paid off with strong numbers.

Two of Fox's controversial "reality" specials - "Surviving the Moment of Impact" and "World's Scariest Police Chases" - finished among the week's top 20 shows.

ABC scored with the first part of its "Oprah Winfrey Presents" miniseries, "The Wedding." It was the week's most-watched non-Olympic broadcast, and it made up for the disappointing ratings of ABC's two-part Motown special.

The Olympics had two positive side benefits for CBS: It helped David Letterman beat Jay Leno in late-night ratings for the first time since 1995 and gave the "CBS Evening News" its first outright win in the ratings since February 1994, during the Lillehammer Olympics.

Last week, the CBS news program had a 9.3 rating and 18 share, the "NBC Nightly News" had a 9.1 rating and 17 share and ABC's "World News Tonight" had an 8.6 rating and 16 share.

Among the emerging networks last week, the WB had a 3.2 rating and 5 share and UPN had a 2.4 rating and 4 share.

A rating point represents 980,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 98 million TV homes. Share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of Feb. 16-22, the top 10 shows, their networks and ratings were:

1. "Winter Olympics" (Friday), CBS, 23.2; 2. "Winter Olympics" (Wednesday), CBS, 20.7; 3. "Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Wedding, Part 1," ABC, 16.8; 4. "Seinfeld," NBC, 15.0; 5. "Winter Olympics" (Monday), CBS, 14.9; 6. "60 Minutes," CBS, 14.0; 7. "Winter Olympics" (Thursday), CBS, 13.9; 8. "Winter Olympics" (Tuesday), CBS, 13.5; 9. "Friends," NBC, 13.1; 10. "ER," NBC, 12.8.