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Inside Move: CBS makes Smart move

Eye publicity team manages a coup on telepic

It was supposed to be a fast, routine interview, taped for CBS’ electronic press kit to help promote sweeps telepic “The Elizabeth Smart Story.”

But when a producer sat down with parents Ed and Lois Smart, who were visiting the TV movie set in Nova Scotia, the couple got chatty.

The Smarts spent more than a half hour giving intricate detail about Elizabeth’s abduction, as well as the way she was found — and how the family was reunited. With footage in hand, CBS execs decided to call on the net’s inhouse nonfiction producer, CBS Eye Too Prods., to turn the interview (along with interviews from the telepic’s cast and an update on the Smart case) into a one-hour special.

“Elizabeth Smart: America’s Girl,” hosted by independent producer and former CBS News anchor Bill Kurtis, was delivered to Eye execs on Thursday and rushed onto air just two days later, Saturday at 8 p.m. A CBS spokesman said the quick scheduling came about because normal timeslot inhabitant “48 Hours” had scheduled a repeat opposite Game 1 of the World Series.

“People were starting to talk about the upcoming (Elizabeth Smart) book and movie,” said CBS’ Chris Ender, “and we determined that it was the right time to broadcast it.”

But — not so coincidentally — the quick airdate also gave CBS the chance to beat NBC, which plans to air a Katie Couric interview with the Smarts Friday at 10 p.m. NBC News execs were likely steamed that CBS stole a bit of their own interview thunder. Couric, however, managed to snag the first exclusive chat with Elizabeth herself.

Insiders said CBS News execs weren’t concerned about the Eye special, having clearly not been involved with efforts to promote the movie. “The Elizabeth Smart Story” airs Nov. 9.

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