2008 Beijing Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Yes, the Olympics suffered the post-Michael Phelps blues. And, yes, suffered is too harsh a word.

A whopping 211 million watched the Beijing Games on NBC and/or its cable outlets through Saturday night, the network said.

NBC hailed the number as the most viewers for "any event in U.S. television history," an "event" apparently being defined as something that lasts a couple weeks longer than the Super Bowl or the final episode of M*A*S*H.

The 17-day-long Beijing Games concluded last night.

In prime time, the Olympics, at its best, put up American Idol-like numbers. Through the games' first nine days, NBC averaged 31.1 million viewers.

The games' first nine days featured, not coincidentally, swimmer Phelps' eight gold medal-winning races.

Post-Phelps, ratings fell, although not spectacularly. Viewership slumped about 10 percent. By the end of the second week, through Saturday night, the Olympics was averaging 27.7 million prime-time viewers.

While NBC is trumpeting the Beijing Games as the most watched Olympics on record, which it is, Nielsen stats show it was not the highest rated Olympics on record.

Among summer games, four other games, including the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 1984 Los Angeles Games, drew higher prime-time ratings.

The real victory for NBC was that Beijing was not Sydney nor Athens. Ratings for those two Summer Games, held in 2000 and 2004, respectively, were considerably weaker than those that came before them.

Compared to Sydney, the Beijing prime-time ratings were up 17 percent through Saturday; compared to Athens, they were up 8 percent.

NBC's sister cable networks, including Oxygen, USA, CNBC and MSNBC, aided the cause, bringing in 86 million viewers.

In all, NBC estimated that 86 percent of U.S. TV households tuned in the games. Even some of the parts, presumably, not featuring Michael Phelps.

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