NBC airs men's basketball final live

NEW YORK - So it turns out they COULD televise events live from the Sydney Olympics.

NBC Sports veered briefly from its policy of airing every bit of Summer Games action on tape, broadcasting the men's basketball gold medal game as it happened.

Viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones saw a live feed of the United States beating France 85-75. Viewers in the Mountain and Pacific zones were shown the game on tape.

The network originally planned to show the game with the shortest tape-delay of these games - about 20 minutes - but switched gears a few hours before the tip-off (at 1:15 p.m. Sunday in Sydney, 10:15 p.m. EDT Saturday).

Everything was back to ''normal'' Sunday afternoon in the United States, however, with NBC airing boxing and wrestling finals 12-16 hours after they took place.

And NBC's coverage of the games ended Sunday night with the telecast of the closing ceremony starting about 12 hours after fireworks lit the Sydney sky to signal the end of the Olympics.

Sydney is 15 hours ahead of the East Coast, and that gap - and NBC's decision to hold competition for prime time - is one of the factors that probably contributed to Nielsen ratings being far lower than expected. The cumulative rating through Friday was the worst for a Summer Olympics since 1964, when NBC aired a total of 14 hours from the Tokyo Games.

During the first few days of these Olympics, studio hosts on NBC, CNBC and MSNBC told viewers: ''To present these Olympics at a time convenient to you - that is, while you're awake - the event coverage you'll see broadcast will be on tape.''

Plenty of medal-determining competition could have been aired during prime time in the United States, including Venus Williams' singles tennis victory, the Olympic debut of the triathlon, and volleyball.

The shift to show the men's basketball final in real time ''had nothing to do with the debate over live versus taped,'' NBC Sports vice president Kevin Sullivan said from Sydney. ''The decision was made ... when it became apparent it would work and the opportunity was there.''

Studio host Bob Costas introduced the game by saying, ''Right now - early Sunday afternoon in Sydney, Saturday night back in the United States - the men's gold medal basketball game is set to begin.''

There was no other indication, such as an on-screen graphic, that the game was live.

Midway through the first half, viewers were taken back to the studio for a snippet of a taped interview Costas did with sprinter Maurice Greene about two hours earlier.


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