“I don’t think she is going to be able to travel,” said NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell today of skier Lindsey Vonn joining the network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics next month in Sochi, Russia. However, Vonn could show up on NBC in some form or another, Bell said. “We have been in discussions,” he said of Vonn, who had to drop out of the Games due to a knee injury. When pressed whether she would be on-air, Bell stoically replied “maybe.” Bell also noted during a call with reporters today that he wasn’t worried that the absence of the high-profile Vonn — a gold medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Games and now a pop culture staple — would lead to a lack of viewer interest in U.S. participants. “There are plenty of established stars to go round, like Shaun White,” he said. “And there are always the unknowns. No one knew the gymnasts where, but they became stars,” he added of the U.S.’ breakout darlings of the 2012 London Olympics.
Bell was joined on the call by NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel, NBCSN Olympics daytime host Dan Patrick, Olympic correspondent Mary Carillo, and the network’s figure skating analyst and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton. The big subject of discussion was security: Zenkel said he was “confident” of the security the Russians have put in place. “Security has been the top of mind of anyone who has been involved with the Olympics. It is always the top priority of ours,” he said. “We have never seen the type of security at an Olympics that we are seeing in Russia now,” he added. “It is numbers of personnel, credentials and surveillance that is unprecedented.” And those credentials extend past media and participants, Zenkel said. “Unlike past Olympics we have been to, guests and spectators are being credentialed. Everyone who has been issued one has been background checked.”
Bell was asked whether NBC expects to reach the ratings numbers of the Vancouver Games, which could be aired live in primetime. “We feel pretty good about reaching our ratings projections,” he noted — without revealing what those projections are. Bell, the former Today executive producer who oversaw NBC’s London Olympics coverage, also was bullish on the role the Game will play promoting NBC’s non-sports programming. “We want to be part of launching our late-night shows with Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers,” he said.
Related: Midseason Premiere Dates
This year’s Winter Olympics run from February 6-23. The Opening Ceremony is set for February 7, but NBC begins primetime coverage the day before with snowboarding events. NBC plans to air more than 1,539 hours of coverage on its main network and NBCSN, MSNBC, CNBC and USA Network as well as more than 1,000 hours of live streaming coverage of the competitions. The network will have about 2,300 personnel on the ground by the time the Games kick off in two weeks. And they are aiming for a big get with Russia’s Vladimir Putin: “We hope we get a chance to sit down with him as we get closer to the start of the Games,” Zenkel said.