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NBC wants to help Olympics heal the U.S.

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PASADENA, Calif. — As always, the numbers involved in NBC's coverage of the Olympics are staggering.

They include: 2,768 staffers in Torino; 416 hours of total coverage (on both broadcast and cable networks); 1,200 pre-produced athlete biographies; 31 editing rooms; 450 desktop computers; 588 camera positions; 2,500 color monitors; 300,000 feet of cable; $613 million for the U.S. television rights.

Hey, they're planning on 18,730 pounds of pasta, 22,000 doughnuts and 78,000 energy bars to feed the NBC troops.

Why go to all this effort, beyond just the expectation of big ratings and bigger advertising dollars?

"I think our country right now is going through some pretty tough times, some pretty negatives times — whether it be Iraq, whether it be the economy, whether it be the scandals in Washington," said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics. "And I think America is just going to embrace these kids, their positive attitude, their winning performances."

He is, of course, counting on both American athletes winning their events and NBC winning the ratings race. And Bob Costas, back as the lead anchor of NBC's Olympic coverage, thinks that at least the latter will happen because the Games stand out as relatively unique in the crowded sports world.

"Whoever doesn't win (the NFL) conference championship games will be, in a matter of months, back in training camps pursuing it again," Costas said. "Whoever didn't win the World Series or didn't realize their expectations in the last baseball season, we're less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training.

"But for Olympic athletes, it's once every four years at best. And for many of them, it's once in a lifetime. For most of them, they labor in complete obscurity in terms of their preparation and the competitions that lead up to the Olympics, especially in the United States, are not heavily covered. And then all of a sudden they step out of the shadows and into the brightest spotlight in all of sports, on a grand international stage with all the history and pageantry and trappings that surround it. And I think that that gives the Olympics unique drama within sports."

LEADING THE WAY to Torino among local stations, not surprisingly, is NBC affiliate KSL-Ch. 5, which will have nine staffers in Italy for the Games.

"It's a lot for us, but because we have a lot of Olympic programming it makes sense," said news director Con Psarras, whose people will have more access — albeit it limited — than non-NBC stations will have.

A QUICK TRIP TO the Internet will make some sense of the many viewing options on NBC and its sister cable networks — USA, CNBC and MSNBC. Go to www.nbcolympics.com, enter your zip code under "Olympics on TV" and it will tell you what's on which channel and whether it's in high definition.

FIGURE SKATING gets the most emphasis from NBC — a natural, given that it's the most popular among viewers. All of the major events will be aired (on tape-delay) in prime-time on the broadcast network, but the coverage won't stop there.

Beginning Friday, the USA network (on cable and satellite systems) will air an hourlong show titled "Olympic Ice" daily at 4 p.m.

"We hope we'll provide an all-access pass inside this sport," said coordinating producer Molly Solomon. "We intend to give the viewers a credential backstage so they can meet the athletes, the coaches, go to the practice rink, get behind the scenes with the scuttlebutt, the intrigue, the fashion, the scandal."

The fashion?!?

HOCKEY WILL ALSO get more emphasis this time around — all 54 games in both the men's and women's competitions will be televised live on NBC, CNBC, MSNBC or USA. And the gold-medal games as well as any contest feature an American team will be telecast without commercial interruption.

KSL to cover Olympics

Ch. 5 will air the Winter Olympics beginning with the opening ceremonies on Friday at 7 p.m. Additionally, most weekday coverage will begin with Eyewitness News specials at 3 p.m. and prime time coverage from 7 to 10:30 p.m. The prime time broadcast will be repeated at midnight most nights. For additional Olympic TV coverage — both network and cable — see the Deseret Morning News' Olympic sports pages each day during the 17 days of the Torino games.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com