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As Olympic records go, it probably should have been set a long time ago.
On Friday evening, Meredith Vieira will become the first woman to host a U.S. prime-time Olympics broadcast by herself, after a medical issue and sleep deprivation forced two of her male colleagues to step aside.
The network’s long-time Olympics host Bob Costas was yanked from prime time after coming down with an infamous case of pink eye during the first few days of the Winter Games. Matt Lauer stepped in for three days on the 8-11:30 pm ET broadcast until the demands of his job on the Today Show, which he co-hosts 7-10 a.m. ET, became too much.
Vieira was in Sochi to co-host the opening ceremony with Lauer, and has been filing some segments for Today, which she had co-hosted from 2006 to 2011.
Vieira’s new spot in the history books says more about the continuing male domination of sports broadcasting than anything else. While NBC noted in its announcement that four women (Hannah Storm, Mary Carillo, Gayle Gardner and Jane Pauley) had previously hosted the network’s daytime or late-night coverage, prime time is still TV’s most valuable real estate. NBC’s evening broadcasts have won every night since the Sochi Olympic Games began, regularly scoring more than 22 million U.S. viewers.
The moment comes 114 years after women first competed in the modern Olympics, and in the midst of an Olympic Games that has often featured more compelling story lines from the women than the men.
Of the 12 medals captured so far by the U.S. team, women have won seven across six sports while men have taken four across two sports. (The remaining medal, a bronze, was won in the mixed figure skating team competition.)
Canadian broadcasting is still largely stuck in the same male-dominated era. While women are more present on screen than in previous years, they often anchor feature segments of serve as co-hosts. The CBC’s prime-time coverage this year is anchored by Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean. For many years, Brian Williams served as the network’s Olympic host until he jumped to CTV, where he hosted that broadcaster’s coverage of the Games.
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