Olympics give long-suffering net a chance to top ABC for the season

For the first time in six years, the Peacock could find itself on the medals podium.

While it’s clear that NBC has more problems in primetime than any other major network — it possesses only two of the season’s top 20 entertainment series — gaudy ratings for sports (both the just-concluded Winter Olympics and a record-setting year for the NFL’s “Sunday Night Football”) have padded its average to the point that it carries a nice lead over third-place ABC into the season’s final 12-plus weeks.

NBC was projected to finish the week of Feb. 21-28 (which ended with the Closing Ceremonies from Vancouver) with a 3.0 season average in adults 18-49 to a 2.65 for fourth-place ABC. That 13% advantage likely will be trimmed to about 10% the following week, though, as the Alphabet airs the Academy Awards.

And from there, it’s a race to see if the Peacock can hold on.

Who captures the bronze won’t mean much in the big picture, as ABC still holds a decided advantage when it comes to advertising coin for regular series, but it could be symbolically important. For NBC, which has been stuck in fourth place since “Friends” exited the air, any bragging rights would be nice.

Here’s a look at each net’s keys down the stretch:

As it recovers from the disaster that was “The Jay Leno Show,” the net has assembled a sked that makes the most of the assets at its disposal — and it seems to have put most of its best stuff at 10 o’clock, including a pair of “Law & Order” skeins, the new reality show “The Marriage Ref” and family drama “Parenthood.” (Ironically, the Peacock’s spring lineup of 10 p.m. entertainment series should provide the kind of lead-in to Leno on “Tonight” that Leno himself couldn’t provide for Conan O’Brien during his short run as host of the 11:35 p.m. skein.)

While most of the focus has been on “Parenthood,” which might do OK but doesn’t appear to be a game-changer,

NBC’s best hope for striking ratings gold down the stretch lies in the reality genre.

Thursday’s “The Marriage Ref,” exec produced by Jerry Seinfeld (who also appears early as a judge), looks to be a nice capper to the net’s comedy block and should generate strong initial interest. Another new reality entry, Sunday’s family-friendly “Minute to Win It,” is also a wild-card that could surprise. “Minute” will need to be successful to give “Celebrity Apprentice” a decent lead-in; without it, “Apprentice” could be downsized by CBS’ upstart “Undercover Boss.”

The Alphabet should be in good shape down the stretch — filling up some of the potholes that have dragged it down this season — and figures to beat NBC just about every week. But it might still be tough to make up so much ground on NBC.

Net is hoping that the mega-buzz surrounding the final episodes of “Lost” can help boost interest in two other sci-fi series, “V” on Tuesday and “FlashForward” on Thursday. Both rookie skeins dropped off in the ratings after great starts, and underwent some midseason retooling; at the least, they should fare better than the shows currently in these slots.

Less is expected of ABC’s new shows on Wednesday (10 p.m. drama “Happy Town”) and Friday (“Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”), and success with either would be gravy.

But if ABC is looking for something that will ensure it leapfrogs NBC to place third, it needn’t look any further than “Lost.” The net should take advantage of the show’s rabid following by accompanying its final episodes with TV versions of the kind of water-cooler chatter that takes place in the hours and days after each new episode.

For example, why not turn over the final night of the season (opposite the “American Idol” finale) to a special called “Lost: The Creators and Cast Tell All”? Such specials have worked well for reality shows like “The Bachelor” and “Survivor,” so why not for the most buzzed-about scripted program in years?

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