By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Mar 03, 2010 at 11:00 AM
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The final numbers are in and Milwaukee was the third biggest market for NBC's prime-time Olympics coverage, with only Salt Lake City and Denver beating us.

Nielsen Media Research numbers showed a third of southeast Wisconsin TV households watching television were tuned to Channel 4, an average of 190,000 area homes nightly over the 17-day run of the Vancouver games.

For the record, Seattle was in fourth place, and Minneapolis came in fifth.

Channel 4 general manager Steve Wexler has a couple theories on why viewership was so strong in Milwaukee.

"First, we are a very strong NBC affiliate," he said, via e-mail. "In general, NBC programs do better on Today's TMJ4 than in many other cities because the station is a leader in the market and has been for a long time. Even NBC's failed 9 p.m. experiment with Jay Leno did better here than elsewhere."

He also sees a strong Olympic connection to southeast Wisconsin.

"There were so many compelling local stories that made the Olympics 'must see TV' in Milwaukee. Many of the athletes grew up in Wisconsin or trained here. I heard a lot of people tell me they felt like they were cheering for a local team when they watched the Games," according to Wexler. "I'm sure that connection had a lot to do with the strong ratings performance."

There's a third possible reason that I'll add. Milwaukee's TV market tends to skew a bit older than some markets, and the Nielsen analysis shows that the Olympics score far better with older viewers than it does with younger viewers.

Those big numbers during the Olympics allowed Channel 4 to promote itself to an increased audience.

As Wexler explained, "whenever stations are home to a big, 'shared experience' event (such as the Olympics or the Super Bowl), they have the opportunity to remind regular viewers why they choose that station ... and of course, they work hard to convert people to their brand.

"For us," said Wexler, "that meant showcasing our strong lineup of local news, weather and sports talent and delivering the kind of big investigative stories that people expect from us."

Nationally, the Vancouver games were second to the 1994 Lillehammer, Norway, games, which pulled in 204 million viewers. Vancouver had 190 million. The 2002 Salt Lake City games had 187 million.

On TV: Speaking of ratings, Nielsen overnights show Jay Leno's return to NBC's "The Tonight Show" pulled in 6.6 million viewers to David Letterman's 3.8 million on CBS. Check back in a few weeks to see numbers that actually mean something.

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Roger Ebert's new / old voice: Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert unveiled the beta version of his new computer-generated voice during a visit with Oprah Winfrey that aired on Tuesday. Ebert's been silenced since 2006 by cancer surgery.

Here's some emotional video as his wife, Chaz Ebert, hears it for the first time.

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.