||Networks Choose Sweeps Push Over Bush Address
NEW YORK (Variety) - TV newsies may feel pressure to rally
around the flag, but that didn't stop them from skipping
President Bush's speech Thursday night.
After waiting until the last minute on Thursday to decide
whether to air the president's address to the nation, the
broadcast networks largely decided to stick with regular
ABC was the only broadcast network to air the speech live.
Cable nets CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNBC also broadcast
Industry insiders said it was a difficult decision to make,
since the networks are wary of appearing unpatriotic, but they
are reluctant to preempt their primetime schedule during
sweeps, a key ratings period when ad prices are set.
Instead of the president's speech, CBS aired "Survivor:
Africa,'' while NBC aired "Friends.'' If White House officials
wanted to get a message to the nation, they shouldn't have
scheduled President Bush's speech during sweeps, joked some
A White House spokeswoman confirmed that her boss did not
officially ask the networks to carry the speech, saying it was
up to them. She said there were no bad feelings regarding who
carried it and who didn't.
"Based on what we've been told about the content of the
speech, we'll cover it as a news event and not as live
programming,'' said a CBS News spokeswoman, who added that the
speech was Webcast live at CBS.com and covered on the West
Coast version of the "CBS Evening News.''
An NBC News spokeswoman said, "Given that the White House
did not request time on the network, we thought it was
sufficient to cover the event on our cable networks.''
ABC, which preempted an episode of "Whose Line Is It
Anyway?,'' said the decision was a no-brainer.
"It's a speech by the president of the United States while
our country is at war on an issue that is of vital concern to
Americans right now -- our homeland security,'' an ABC News
Cynics sniped that it was easier for ABC to cut into "Whose
Line Is It Anyway?'' since it is not nearly as popular as
''Survivor'' or "Friends''; however, a decision to preempt
primetime programming is still one that will cost the network
millions of dollars in lost revenue.
This season, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?'' has averaged 6.1
million viewers, compared with 20.7 million for "Survivor'' and
28.1 million for "Friends,'' according to Nielsen numbers.
As Thursday's dilemma illustrates, TV newsies increasingly
are feeling pressure to prove their patriotism.
"In these times, there's a patriotism patrol,'' CNN News
Group chairman-CEO Walter Isaacson said Wednesday at a panel
discussion hosted by the Libel Defense Resource Center in
Gotham. "If you get on the wrong side of public opinion by
seeming not to be patriotic enough, you can get in trouble
As an example, Isaacson pointed to ABC News president David
Westin, who was criticized after he told a roomful of Columbia
University journalism students that he had no opinion on
whether the Pentagon could be considered a legitimate enemy
target. Westin later apologized.
ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer agreed: "You have to think
about what you're saying, since you're operating in an arena of
Both Isaacson and Sawyer -- along with fellow panelists Ben
Bradlee, VP at large of the Washington Post, and "60 Minutes''
creator Don Hewitt -- said holding back information may be
appropriate if doing so is in the national interest.
"We have an extra consideration. We realize it,'' Sawyer
Just as newsies say they are willing to work with
Washington as the war on terrorism continues, so is Hollywood.
On Sunday, White House special assistant Karl Rove will
meet with top entertainment execs in Los Angeles to discuss
ways Hollywood may contribute in winning over the hearts and
minds of overseas audiences, particularly viewers in the Middle
"The White House will share with the entertainment
community the themes that are being communicated here and
abroad -- tolerance, courage, patriotism -- and during the
meeting participants are likely going to discuss any future
actions that could be undertaken by the entertainment
industry,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at a
"The White House has great respect for the creativity of
the industry and recognizes its ability to educate,'' Fleischer
By Paula Bernstein
||Tuesday, October 17, 2005
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