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Olympics just a day at beach for Ebersol

The Olympic credo may be faster, stronger, higher, but NBC's Olympic motto is a lot simpler: "Maximize ratings for advertisers, audience, and affiliates." "The No. 1 rule is to get the largest number of viewers tuned in for the longest time," Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, said yesterday via phone from Athens.

Should that mean scantily clad beach volleyball dollies in prime time and extending prime time to midnight, so be it.

"We determined last winter that Misty May and Kerri Walsh would be one of the most dominating teams coming into the Games," said Ebersol. "We felt sure they'd be a drop-dead certainty as a major sports story along with Michael Phelps, the female swimmers, and women's gymnasts. They were a key part of our promotional campaign for the Games. Now you can make the case that they've been able to elevate their sport by their athleticism.

"If others see something else in it, we didn't. They exhibit such a sense of joy in competing," he said. "In other sports, you see incredible concentration and intensity during the competition. There are only a minority who show joy."

Translation: The cameras loved May and Walsh.

Ebersol may be in Athens, sleeping in his office in the International Broadcast Center and overseeing NBC's prime-time coverage, but he's also aware of what's going on in Boston, where Wednesday night's 12.0 Olympics ratings placed this market 54th out of 55 metered US markets while the Sox-Blue Jays game drew a 9.9 rating.

"The love affair Boston has with its four professional teams is never stronger than when the fans feel they're `in it,' " he said. "The Yankees are having a temporary lapse here. That's all it is, and it's given false hope to millions of Sox fans, all of whom can throw darts at me starting Monday on Martha's Vineyard. Theirs is the passion of the century. That being said, I think the Sox could beat the Yankees in a seven-game LCS, should they get that far."

When Ebersol starts "to decompress" following Sunday's conclusion of the Games, it'll be a pleasant comedown, barring any unforeseen disasters in the final days in Athens.

Among the items he'll savor:

* The Games have been profitable, which wasn't a slam dunk, given NBC's $1 billion expenditure for rights fees and production costs and terrorism threats.

* Ratings have been solid -- a 15.8 through 12 days.

* The umbrella coverage using CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Bravo, and Telemundo has worked and they've added to the revenue with premium charges to cable operators to carry the Olympic programming. "It'll be the same in Torino in 2006," he said, "though some of the channel names may be different. And we'll call them Torino. It rolls off the lips a lot smoother than Turin."

* That umbrella coverage reached more and younger viewers and set ratings records for the cable networks, which combined had reached 62 million viewers among the estimated 192 million Americans (70 percent of the population) who have tuned in.

* Long-range planning. "A lot of new faces have emerged in track and field," he said. "Not tainted by BALCO. It seems now to be in everyone's interest to get positive [drug] test results out so the event results stand the test of time."

All Patriots, all the time?

The NFL TV situation gets more interesting by the day. Expect Comcast to introduce The NFL Network for its digital customers in this area before the Patriots' Sept. 9 season opener. And, just as that's happening here, the Dallas Cowboys have announced a deal to put their own 24-hour station -- The Dallas Cowboys Channel -- on the air beginning Sept. 8 on Comcast in the Dallas designated market area. The Patriots have been building their own production resources, hiring producer Matt Smith to head Kraft Sports Productions. The team also has its Patriots Football Weekly staff -- headed by Fred Kirsch, with writer-reporters Andy Hart, Paul Perillo, and Bryan Morry and graphics and production people -- in-house. They do daily webcasts on and produce "Patriots All-Access," which airs on Channel 5, and "Patriots Football Weekly" on Channel 56. All the signs point to team vice chairman Jonathan Kraft having a business plan for the team's own channel. Question is: Has it been in the active file or on hold as the team concentrated on helping get The NFL Network off on a strong start? All indications are the Patriots have been approached to launch a similar initiative. However, as in everything the Krafts have done, it's not about being first but about being the best. In Dallas, an area of heavy national football interest, the Cowboys channel is seen as a way for Comcast to compete with DirecTV, which has exclusive rights to the league's out-of-town "Sunday Ticket" package through the 2007 season. The league's broadcast deals with ABC/ESPN, CBS, and Fox run through the 2005 season.

Stars will shine

WEEI is doing its all-day RadioThon from Fenway Park today. Program director Jason Wolfe has lined up Jim Belushi, Jimmy Kimmel, Mo Vaughn, Ben Affleck, Bob Cousy, Bruce Hurst, Paul Stewart, and perhaps even George Steinbrenner as call-in guests during the day. In-person guests include Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, and Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, plus actors Michael O'Malley and Michael Badalucco. The big segments come with morning hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan moderating a "How to Build a Champion" panel with the GMs of Boston's pro teams from 8-9:30 a.m. At noon, midday host Dale Arnold moderates a panel discussion with Sox players, including Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek . . . Sports Illustrated's "Go Figure," a weekly "by the numbers" feature, had this item last week: According to a Nielsen study, the Red Sox "brand" ranked No. 3 on a list of brands displayed or mentioned most often on prime-time network shows during the 2003-04 broadcast season . . . Cramer Productions are working on "Boston's Greatest Sports Stories: Beyond the Headlines," a documentary project that will show the history of Boston sports through the eyes, words, and photos of the Globe's sports department. Cramer has been interviewing Globe writers, past and present, for the project, which will be written by former Globe columnist Leigh Montville. One-minute vignettes will begin airing next week several times a week on NESN in the Globe's Red Sox pregame and "SportsPlus" shows . . . This afternoon, NBC (Channel 7, 12:30-4 p.m.) plans live coverage of the women's 10,000 meters . . . ESPN (and ESPN HD) features three Saratoga races, culminating in the $1 million Travers Stakes, tomorrow from 5-7 p.m. 

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