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NBC Takes Gold in Advertising Overkill

We interrupt this commercial announcement for an Olympic broadcast.

Granted, that's probably an exaggeration. But you can't blame NBC's prime-time viewers for thinking they're spending more time on breaks than they are on skis, skates and snowboards combined.

Yet what can a cash-strapped NBC do? In hindsight, the network clearly bid too much to broadcast these Winter Games, a money-losing mistake for which it, and viewers, are now paying. Still, as long as America puts its Olympic broadcasts in the hands of free enterprise, and as long as the International Olympic Committee insists on getting roughly half its broadcast money from the American bid alone, we're going to find ourselves in this ad-crazed fix - particularly when a bad economy reduces the amount NBC can charge for what it gets.

Economics are also why the major events you do see - like Lindsey Vonn's gold-medal ski run Wednesday - are confined to prime time, even if that requires ditching "live" for tape (as it always does on the West Coast). Ad rates are highest in prime time, which means the network needs as many viewers there as it can possibly gather. It can't afford to diminish that audience by letting you watch, or worse, record, big events in the afternoon.

Breaks and tape, that's the game NBC is stuck playing; no sense trying to change the rules in the middle. But we can ask for a few tweaks:

-- Divorce the Ref. Considering that NBC has already said it's going to lose money on these games, we can't begrudge the network any ads it can sell. What grates are those incessant in-house promos for "The Marriage Ref," ''Parenthood" and "The Celebrity Apprentice," among others. NBC has run so many of them so often, it's beginning to feel like we've already seen the shows and we're just waiting for the cancellation notices.

-- Drop the Dragon. Never mind that those animated Viking-Olympic spots aren't funny, or that poor Bob Costas seems to cringe every time he has to introduce one. They're ads. Air them as ads, or don't air them at all.

-- A little less Triumph of the Human Spirit. When we're back from a break, how about taking us to an event and skipping some of the profiles, particularly as NBC has returned to the sob-sister attitude it had ditched after Sydney. There's no doubt that many of the athletes have had to overcome adversity, but every setback isn't a tragedy - and tragedies are hardly the sole province of star athletes. If we can appreciate the Super Bowl without knowing every problem endured by every player, odds are we can do the same at the Olympics.

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