Elizabeth Smart’s parents and Doubleday — publisher of the upcoming authorized book on how the abducted girl was found — claims CBS betrayed them by airing a one-hour special Saturday night.
The special was quickly thrown together after Eye execs took a look at the Smarts’ routine electronic press kit interview with a CBS producer last month. The couple wound up revealing a great deal about their ordeal, which Eye execs couldn’t resist turning into the special, “Elizabeth Smart: America’s Girl” (Daily Variety, Oct. 20).
Spec also doubled as a promo for the Eye’s Nov. 9 telepic “The Elizabeth Smart Story.”
That’s what has Doubleday steamed. According to the publisher, CBS had verbally agreed not to promote the pic until the week of Nov. 3, when the book campaign commences and after NBC’s Katie Couric had aired her exclusive sit-down with Elizabeth and parents Ed and Lois Smart.
“CBS misled the Smarts and misled Doubleday regarding the timing of the movie promotion. We were all shocked and disappointed that they would break their verbal agreements,” Doubleday exec veep for publicity Suzanne Herz said.
As of late Monday, CBS had not returned several messages left by Doubleday. But an Eye spokesman told Daily Variety that CBS had not made any agreement with the publisher or the Smarts.
“We are sorry that the Smarts’ are caught between two media companies that are both working hard to make their respective projects successful,” said CBS spokesman Chris Ender. “CBS did not make any false promises about when the special would air.”
It was the latest in a falling out between the network and publisher, which had originally joined forces to promote the book and TV movie. Both CBS and Doubleday had agreed to send out a joint press release about both projects, and arranged to push both at the same time.
But CBS execs were then taken aback when Doubleday reps announced that they had struck a deal with NBC to give “Dateline NBC” and “Today” first crack at interviewing the Smarts — without giving the Eye even a courtesy call.
That convinced CBS, armed with its own interview with the Smarts, to tap in-house production label CBS Eye Too Prods. and turn it into the one-hour spec.
Last Thursday, CBS met with Ed Smart in Salt Lake City for a followup interview to be used in the special. Uneasy, Smart asked when the special was airing, reminding of the commitments to “Dateline” and “Oprah,” according to Doubleday. When CBS refused to tell him, he ended the interview.
“The Smarts are extremely unhappy,” Herz said.
CBS’ decision to air its special underscores the ferocious competition among various TV outlets to score the “get” interview.
NBC’s special on the Smarts will air Friday at 10. Initially, only the parents were going to be interviewed, but NBC News announced last week that Couric would also interview Elizabeth Smart.
On Monday, the Smarts will appear on “Oprah.”
Doubleday admitted that there is no legal action it can take against CBS, since the publisher said it had only secured a verbal agreement from the net.