Never underestimate the TV appeal of wet, well-muscled men in Speedos. NBC aired only three nights of Olympic coverage last week, but that was enough to lap the competition and earn the gold in the weekly Nielsen ratings race. Sunday night's swimming competition was the week's most-watched show, drawing an audience of 25.8 million, edging out Friday's opening ceremonies (No. 2, 25.4 million) and outdistancing Saturday's coverage (No. 3, 19.8 million). NBC averaged 15.1 million viewers for the week, about twice the score of its nearest rival.
Even NBC's non-sporting competitions did reasonably well; Thursday's ''Last Comic Standing'' finale came in at No. 18 (Tuesday's second-to-last episode was No. 20), and the finale of ''For Love or Money'' (love won) came in at No. 31.
CBS, whose ratings boasts are becoming increasingly jocular (last week, the network issued a tongue-in-cheek statement claiming that the summer season officially ended on Aug. 12, the day before the Olympics began), bragged that it had the week's ''most watched program not emanating from Greece'' (fourth-place finisher ''Everybody Loves Raymond,'' with 11.8 million viewers). In fact, CBS had five of the top 10 shows and averaged 7.7 million viewers for the week. ABC, which cracked the top 10 with its own sporting event (the NFL Hall of Fame Game, No. 9, 10.84 million), finished third for the week with an average of 6.2 million viewers. Fox, whose August ratings highlight continues to be ''Trading Spouses'' (No. 16, 9.2 million), was fourth with an average of 4.7 million. UPN beat the WB by a hair, 2.54 million to 2.5 million.