A Viewing Guide For The Overwhelmed Olympic Fan

With less than a week to go until the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics, TV critic Eric Deggans lays out a guide to watching the games.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Well, if you were to try to watch all of NBC's coverage of the Sochi games, it would be a lot of TV: 1,539 hours of programming. The network is serving up more coverage of the Winter Olympics than ever. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans has some advice for those sorting through it.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Watching the Olympics is like a Rorschach test. Years ago, you just turned on the TV and gobbled down whatever they dished up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

AL MICHAELS: Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? Yes.

DEGGANS: On Thursday, NBC will present an explosion of Winter Olympics programming. There's 185 hours on the broadcast network alone. They pile on even more coverage over four different cable channels and online. But digging through it all to find your favorite Olympics moments requires answering a crucial question. What kind of sports fan are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Are you ready?

DEGGANS: Maybe you're an old school fan. You can just sit back and watch the good stuff in primetime, edited by NBC into familiar stories just like they've always done. There's a nine hour time difference between Sochi and the East Coast so they won't even place the opening ceremonies on the Internet until a pre-taped delayed version airs in primetime.

That's the same thing they did during the 2012 Olympics in London, which drew loads of complaints. Twitter was covered with the NBC fail hashtag, but tons of people still watched NBC's coverage. So they're free to shrug off critics and delay showing the ceremonies in Sochi, too. They'll also be some live daytime coverage, especially on the NBC Sports network. But let's forget old schools fans for a moment and think about more media savvy viewers.

You can watch every competition live on NBC's Olympics website or smartphone app. Still, there's a catch. You have to prove you're a cable or satellite TV subscriber to watch most of the online streams. Sports fans expect highlights online, but that stuff won't be available for the Winter Olympics until after the primetime broadcast. Instead, NBC's replaying all the live streams at 3:00 p.m. That's a nice change, but probably won't satisfy people who want to see events immediately on their own timetable.

But what if you're a super savvy fan and you just can't wait. Then, you might want to consider another media source. The BBC will cover Sochi's opening ceremonies live so if you have access to their programming by satellite or online, you're in luck.

And if you're not much of a sports fan, NBC's got something completely different, Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show."

JIMMY FALLON: The Winter Olympics are coming up, so it's time to show support for Team USA. Come on, everybody. Put your hands together. Make some noise.

DEGGANS: Fallon replaces former host Jay Leno at midnight February 17, almost a week before the Olympics ends. Still, there's plenty of traditional Olympic stuff, too. Bob Costas returns as primetime host and NBC has promised to closely cover any news, including terrorism or anti-gay incidents. Much of this is the same kind of coverage they presented from London with a few tweaks.

Small wonder that the London games were the most watched event in U.S. TV history, drawing over 200 million viewers, which makes this Olympics another kind of test. Can NBC provide as much content online as possible without screwing up the TV shows where they really make money?

CORNISH: Eric Deggans is NPR's TV critic.

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