Alphabet, Eye choose civic duty over Nielsens

Amid accusations that the network news divisions are ceding coverage of the national conventions to 24-hour cable news nets, both ABC and CBS will shift their primetime skeds to make room for more convention coverage.

On the opening night of the Republican and Democratic conventions, Monday, July 31, and Monday, Aug. 14, respectively, Peter Jennings will anchor ABC News’ live coverage immediately following NFL “Monday Night Football,” which has been rescheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET and end at approximately 10 p.m.

“From the beginning, we have emphasized the importance of network coverage on all four nights of the convention,” ABC News prexy David Westin said. “As the plans of the two parties have become more certain, the importance of the events on Monday night has become more clear.”

Focus on Clinton, Powell

Originally, ABC News had planned to summarize Monday events of the conventions in halftime reports during the two games. But, after learning that President Clinton would speak on the opening night of the Democratic convention and that Colin Powell would address the Republican convention on its first night, ABC News approached the NFL about starting its games earlier in the evening to allow for more convention coverage.

Separately, at the Television Critics Assn. tour on Monday in Pasadena, ABCNews.com spokesman Sam Donaldson said there is no need for the network news divisions to cover the political conventions as extensively as they once did.

“The conventions no longer represent anything that’s newsworthy,” the veteran newsman said. “I don’t think we have an obligation to carry a commercial of the two political parties simply because they would like us to.” Donaldson, who has covered all but one national political convention since 1964, will broadcast live from the conventions each night for ABCNews.com.

Meanwhile, CBS’ primetime sked has been rearranged to accommodate live convention coverage. “We are committing substantial time and resources to these key events of the presidential election year,” CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward said. “With primetime coverage on all four nights of each convention, our team of seasoned journalists on both sides of the camera will bring the latest news and analysis to a broad audience.”

On Monday a special edition of “48 Hours” will air, while on Tuesday “60 Minutes II” will be broadcast at 10 p.m. so it can include live coverage and reports from each convention. The extent of the coverage will be deter-mined as news unfolds. On Wednesday and Thursday of both conventions, CBS News will present live, extended coverage of the nominating process and acceptance speeches during primetime.

Cuomo, Kemp help out

In addition, the “CBS Evening News With Dan Rather” will be anchored live by Rather from each convention Monday through Thursday. “The Early Show’s” Jane Clayson will anchor the broadcast coverage from Philadelphia, and Bryant Gumbel will anchor from Los Angeles. Democratic New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and former Republican VP candidate Jack Kemp will also contribute to the ayem newsshow.

NBC announced last week that it will devote only 2-1/2 hours of primetime to covering each of the conventions. In total, NBC News will produce 13 programs and “Decision 2000″ specials, the bulk of which will air on its cable network MSNBC. NBC News has said that it will provide additional network primetime convention coverage as news events warrant.

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