The quadrennial world party in swimsuits known as the Summer Olympic Games kicks off today in lovely Beijing, home of air you can chew. The Games aren't quite the ratings juggernaut they were in the 1970s and '80s, when the Cold War provided an obvious continuing storyline, and ABC pioneered its "up close and personal" approach to getting viewers to care about obscure sports and unfamiliar athletes. But they are still a spectacle like nothing else, in all their bloated and scandal-ridden glory. While Olympics in Asia aren't ideal for American networks due to the time differential, several events will air live, due to requests they be held in the morning for the benefit of the U.S. audience, which foots so many bills.
Kicking things off tonight is the opening ceremony (NBC, 7:30 PM), during which you can expect to see the traditional parade of nations accompanied with witty asides by Bob Costas (if there's an Olympics-related fact after Sierra Leone, he'll know it), followed by a song-and-dance that pays homage to the glory that is China. Beginning tomorrow, sixteen days of competition during which many stars will be born while others flicker out. And, no doubt, political controversy that NBC will pointedly ignore. In this column over the next two weeks, look for a guide to that day's Olympics viewing near the top.
Weekend Olympics Highlights (all times ET): The men's road race in cycling (NBC, Saturday 10 AM) could be the first major indicator of how much the air quality will affect athletes in endurance sports. The first four swimming golds will be awarded in prime time on Saturday (NBC, 8 PM), as Michael Phelps begins his quest for eight medals. The U.S. men's basketball team begins its redemption against Team China (NBC, Sunday 10 AM). Sunday's prime-time lineup (NBC, Sunday 7 PM) will feature more live swimming finals and the beginning of the team competition in women's gymnastics, where if you look closely you might spot an actual adult woman competing.
Puppy Games (Animal Planet, tonight 6 PM and 9 PM): If you're familiar with the annual Super Bowl tie-in known as the Puppy Bowl, you already know that this will be one of the greatest things ever. The trampoline competition alone should make it worth your while.
Primeval (BBC America, Saturday 9 PM): This new series concerns a team of zoologists who are surprised to discover that the fabric of time has been ripped, and prehistoric creatures are again roaming among us. The special effects look pretty decent for television.
True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet (Lifetime, Saturday 9 PM): This story ought to look vaguely familiar: a teenage actress (Joanna Levesque) leaves rehab and is sent to the Midwest in a disguise to live anonymously for a little while. You know, it is possible to get in trouble in the Midwest. Hayrides are the devil's playground.
Bridezillas (WE, Sunday 9 PM): All-purpose basket case Kristen thinks her family is getting all the attention on her big day; Tanesha is more upfront than most future trophy wives about why she wants to marry money.
Generation Kill (HBO, Sunday 9 PM): The battalion learns of a planned ambush at a bridge, but still faces difficulties crossing it; the Marines grow curious about the nature of the enemy. I desperately want to believe that someone like "Encino Man" can't possibly get anywhere in the real-life Marine Corps.
I Love Money (VH1, Sunday 9 PM): Brandi C. and Pumkin are the team captains for a challenge that takes place on the beach, a new alliance tries to throw its weight around. I'm amused at how every week on this show, someone is trying to start a new alliance, but no one seems to have the brainpower to stick with any plans.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent (USA, Sunday 9 PM): A body that has practically been overkilled is found in a creek, and the investigation into the murder is complicated by the fact that everyone in his neighborhood seemed to want the guy dead.
Army Wives (Lifetime, Sunday 10 PM): Joan goes on bed rest due to complications with the pregnancy; Frank starts to wonder if Denise has been waiting patiently for him while he was in Iraq; Pamela's new reporter friend shows a different side.
Mad Men (AMC, Sunday 10 PM): Don is nowhere to be found as problems arise on the set of a commercial; Betty and Don play host to a fancy dinner; Harry looks to make a mark, but finds controversy.
Pam: Girl on the Loose (E!, Sunday 10 PM): Always one to support the troops, Pam visits Camp Pendleton with Kathy Griffin, Toby Keith, and the Pussycat Dolls. I think it's important that our boys are reminded what they are fighting for: the right of 41-year-old women to adjust the size of their chests on a weekly basis.
The Two Coreys (A&E, Sunday 10 PM): Feldman tells Haim that their relationship is over until he cleans up for good; Haim gets a talking-to from both his mother and his assistant; Feldman wonders if it's time for liposuction. Can someone suck the fat out of the heads of these two guys?