NBC still waiting on Putin interview

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Vladimir Putin. (AP Photo/Marianna Massey, USOC Pool)
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Alex Weprin

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NBC still doesn’t know if Russian president Vladimir Putin will sit down for an interview with the network.

On a conference call with reporters this afternoon, NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell said, "We are still interested, but there is no real update on that."

Putin made a surprise visit to the U.S. House in Sochi today (each country’s Olympic Committee and official sponsors can have official hospitality "houses" within the Olympic park). While there, he met with athletes, U.S. Olympic officials and NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel.

"I put my best booker on it with Zenkel, so he better deliver the goods," Bell joked on the call.

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NBC executives and talent have been trying to secure an interview with Putin for some time. With security concerns, Olympics issues and the country’s recent legislation that targets gay citizens, there is no shortage of issues to discuss.

As the official U.S. broadcaster for the games, NBC has by far the largest media presence in Sochi, and the largest audience back home, with millions of Americans tuning into the network’s primetime coverage each night. But it was ABC’s George Stephanopoulos who secured the only U.S. TV interview with Putin before the games began.

At a press event last month, NBC Olympics anchor Bob Costas was asked whether the network would address the issue of the “homosexual propaganda” laws Russia recently passed. Costas had been previously quoted as saying that he may not discuss the legislation.

“If Putin doesn’t drag his butt into the studio, then we’ll talk about it without him,” Costas said. “But if he shows up, we’d rather talk to him. Wouldn’t you rather hear it from the horse’s mouth? I would. That’s what I was trying to say.”

In the event NBC does secure an interview with Putin, Costas would almost certainly be the designated interviewer. He is still "day-to-day" as he battles an eye infection. Meredith Vieira is filling in for him tonight.

"When we had to go to Matt, I felt a little like [former N.B.A. coach] Chuck Daly, subbing one hall-of-famer for another," Bell said. "We needed to get him a little rest. We are really happy to have [Vieira], and we know she is going to be great tonight."

Bell also revealed that the network's Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding documentary—the first with participation of Kerrigan—will probably air on Sunday, February 23, the final night of the games.