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Sports on TV: Wild Cards Give NBC a Boost

Even the Dallas Cowboys taking a 37-7 lead against the Philadelphia Eagles midway in the third quarter Saturday night couldn't slow down the NFL's boffo TV box office. After the NFL had its most-viewed regular season since 1990, the Cowboys' blowout on NBC drew a 19.6 overnight rating - translating to 19.6 percent of TV households in 56 urban markets - for the best overnight for a Saturday wild-card game in a decade.

While NBC's on-air Winter Olympics promos seemed more dramatic than some of the action in the Cowboys' win, NBC avoided a blowout in the New York Jets' win at Cincinnati on Saturday. It drew a 16.9 overnight, the best wild-card Game 1 in a decade.

While networks generally use their top production teams in playoffs, NBC was creative in reuniting Joe Theismann and his old Washington coach Joe Gibbs with play-by-play announcer Tom Hammond on Jets-Bengals. Hammond had some miscalls. Gibbs, who was in NBC's studio in the 1990s, didn't always handle the rhythm of game-calling - and didn't get much airtime alongside outgoing Theismann. But, Theismann said Sunday, "We spent three hours together and he didn't tell me to be quiet once." Which was an obvious role reversal for both: With the Redskins hiring Mike Shanahan as coach, Theismann says the team now has "one guy in charge" like it did under both of Gibbs' Redskins coaching eras.

Also novel: NBC had TNT's Charles Barkley on its NFL studio show Saturday to promote his hosting Saturday Night Live. Barkley said he wasn't nervous because, "well, I'm supposed to screw up" - and ended up looking confused by SNL's cue cards. But Dallas' Tony Romo, on his postgame, was on-script: "We've got to hurry this up because (NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol) has got to get to Saturday Night Live," where Barkley "probably won't be funny."

On tap: CBS College Sports will announce today it will debut two hourlong weekly studio shows tonight that give cable TV perches for its broadcast network studio analysts - Seth Davis and Greg Anthony. Courtside with Seth Davis (9 p.m. ET) will include an interview with Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who recently had four players arrested. Says Davis: "My pitch to Pearl was that it will be a good 6-7 minute interview - which is an eternity on television." Wally Szczerbiak makes his debut on the cable TV channel, which is in about 38 million households, on Inside College Basketball (10 p.m. ET), which will also include Anthony.

Spice rack: CBS' Charley Casserly last week reported that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had three broken ribs and coach Bill Belichick responded that Casserly was "100 percent wrong." Sunday, CBS' Jim Nantz followed up and said he'd talked to Brady before the team's loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday and "Tom said, 'I'm fine. I'm feeling good. And it wasn't three of them.' . . . That's all he would say." After the Pats' loss, CBS' Boomer Esiason diagnosed that "obviously Brady's hurt; he's not right." . . . Prep quarterback Cole Marcoux, from Bronx, N.Y., won a TV reality show called The Ride to win a spot in NBC's U.S. Army All-American game Saturday - and threw two touchdowns. Marcoux is committed to Dartmouth. . . . ESPN's Craig James told a Dallas TV station he's considering running for the U.S. Senate from Texas next year. James, whose name recognition was undoubtedly raised after a controversy involving his son Adam led to Texas Tech coach Mike Leach being fired, joins ESPN/ABC announcers including Mike Ditka, Digger Phelps, Lou Holtz and Lynn Swann who have at least considered running for office. . . . Interesting: NBC's Cris Collinsworth, on Showtime, suggested the NFL can motivate playoff-bound teams by giving them a third-round pick for 14 wins, a second-rounder for 15 wins and a first-rounder for a perfect season. Responded CBS' Phil Simms, on the same show: "That is one of the worst ideas I've ever heard."

Whither Carroll: Fox's Jay Glazer said Sunday that a deal for Southern California coach Pete Carroll to coach the Seattle Seahawks is "not yet done." But CBS' Casserly suggested Carroll is motivated to move because "USC has asked the NCAA if they could self-impose restrictions and sanctions on their football program. And the NCAA said no. That may have hastened Carroll's leaving USC for Seattle." CBS' Bill Cowher, whose potential return to coaching is a hot topic, said Carroll "feels like he's done everything he can do at USC. . . . I totally understand where he's coming from. I think it's a good move." And after an animated performance on ABC's BCS title game coverage, Carroll upped his prospects for a future TV job.

Running numbers: NBC's Ebersol, at a Television Critics Association press event Sunday, said ad sales for February's Vancouver Olympics "were slow in the spring and early summer due to the economy, but have suddenly taken off. We are well on our way to do the same number we did in Torino (in 2006) and Salt Lake City (in 2002)." Ebersol added, according to Reuters, "Sadly, we will for the first time in all our years I've been with the Games lose money on the Olympics, but it won't be because the sales didn't come around." NBC paid $820 million for its 2010 TV rights - compared with $613 million for the 2006 Games and $545 million for the 2002 Games - and has said it will lose an estimated $200 million on Vancouver. . . . ABC, in the last BCS game scheduled for broadcast TV, drew 17.2 percent of U.S. TV households for its Alabama-Texas title game - up 9 percent from last year.

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