NBC Passes the Torch

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In what would represent the first piece of programming synergy under its impending purchase of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, NBC is looking to move its U.S. Olympics trials coverage to USA Network.

The deal — which would make USA the home of the U.S. Olympic team trials for the 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2012 games — is a prelude to USA airing actual Olympics coverage, according to NBC officials. But a shift of the trials, most recently carried by Pax TV, is contingent upon completion of NBC’s purchase of USA parent VUE. NBC is expected to finalize its $14 billion deal in April or May.

If the deal is not completed, the trials will be telecast on NBC-owned Bravo.

“We are delighted to provide a platform to showcase the best U.S. Olympic athletes and to brand USA Network as the home of the U.S. Olympic Team,” NBC Sports & Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol said in a statement. “We also intend to have Olympic coverage from Athens on USA, if and when NBC and Universal complete their proposed merger.”

The deal would give USA 24 total hours of this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials coverage this summer, including 11 consecutive Saturdays from May 22 to July 24 and nine hours of live weeknight broadcasts from the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, July 9 to 16.

In addition to track and field, other sports featured on USA would include wrestling; men’s and women’s volleyball; rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline; synchronized diving; equestrian jumping; water polo; and weightlifting, said NBC officials.

NBC also plans to televise an additional 18 hours of Olympic Trials fare — 12 in primetime. USA will also provide coverage of other U.S. Olympic Committee events, such as the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and the biannual Olympic Congressional Gala in Washington, D.C.

It’s unclear how much actual Olympics programming would air on USA. CNBC and MSNBC carried portions of the 2000 Summer Olympics from Sydney, Australia and 2002 Winter Olympics from Salt Lake City. This year, NBC Cable is expected to host some 450 hours from Athens. An NBC spokesman said only that until the merger closes, “we can’t discuss the plans in further detail.”

The Olympics would expand USA Network’s limited but high-profile sports portfolio, including the U.S. Tennis Open, 34 Professional Golfers Association Tour events — including early-round coverage of The Masters and the biennial Ryder Cup — and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.