Highlights from television coverage of the Sochi Olympics:
TOUGH STUFF: Bob Costas' sharp, if jarring, commentary Friday changed the narrative for those who thought NBC ignored or displayed a naive attitude about the world outside of the Olympic Village. The NBC host noted how Ukrainian athletes at the games were showing their concern for their country's political unrest, and tied what was going on there to Vladimir Putin's Russia. Costas said the Sochi Olympics had gone off better than many people feared going in, "all of which is truly wonderful, but should not serve to obscure a harsher or more lasting truth. This is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria — and that's just a partial list." While the games' may burnish Putin's reputation in some eyes, "no amount of Olympic glory can mask these realities," he said.
CURLING & SKIING: CNBC gets a solid audience at dinner time with its curling coverage, climaxed Friday by the men's gold medal match between Canada and Britain. It's an odd, complicated sport and the weakness of NBC's Andrew Catalon and John Benton comes in failing to make novices feel informed and involved. By contrast, Christin Cooper — who was maligned earlier in the games for a Bode Miller interview gone awry — did a marvelous job explaining the technicalities of the women's slalom while losing none of the heart-pumping excitement. She pointed out the flawless technique of American gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin, and how close the skier came to losing control in her final run. Cooper criticized the "passive approach" taken by Slovenia's Tina Maze, and the results showed how costly that was.
ROUGH SKATE: Somehow appropriate that the Americans capped their bleak showing in speedskating by losing a relay gold to the Russians. Young NBC analyst Apolo Ohno had a bad race, too. Throughout, Ohno remarked how the Americans were smartly drafting behind the Russians and were in perfect position to take over toward the end. But it was the Russians who took over, and Ohno praised a "textbook" performance that he earlier had found lacking. In an earlier short race won by Russia's Viktor Ahn, Ohno was insightful in his analysis of Ahn's race strategy. "This man had the race won before we all knew the gun had even gone off," he said.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT: "New drinking game: The NBC Olympics athlete adversity challenge: One swig for each overcome tragedy, two if not an American."
STREAMS: For the third day in a row, an Olympic hockey game set an NBC record for most-streamed event online. This time it was the U.S.-Canada men's semifinal on Friday, with 2.1 million streams. That's believed to be the largest audience ever for a "TV Everywhere" authenticated event in the U.S. — meaning cable or satellite subscribers had to verify their subscriptions to stream the event on their devices.
RATINGS: The 20.3 million viewers for NBC's prime-time telecast on Thursday was a relatively disappointing audience for the deciding night of the women's figure skating, generally the marquee event of a Winter Olympics. It was smaller than the audiences for the corresponding nights of the last two Winter Games. This time there was no American medal winner, which may have cut into viewership. During the day, just under 5 million people watched the gold medal hockey game between the U.S. and Canadian women, the Nielsen company said.
UPCOMING: With competition winding down, NBC has scheduled three documentaries during the last two days of coverage. "Lokomotiv," scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, is about the tragedy surrounding the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team that was wiped out in a 2011 plane crash. "Long Way Home: The Jessica Long Story," profiles Paralympic athlete Jessica Long and her attempt to find her Russian birth parents, and airs in prime-time Saturday. The previously announced look at the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding story is on Sunday at 7. "We think all are unforgettable and important stories to tell," said Mark Levy, NBC's executive producer in charge of the Olympic documentary unit.
David Bauder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder.