Nets cave to peer pressure

Peer pressure caused the major networks to cave in and carry President Bush’s hastily scheduled news conference Thursday night.

Except for ABC, which has no real Thursday lineup, the other Big Four webs initially balked at covering Bush (Daily Variety, April 28). The reason: Thursday was the first night of the May sweeps, and the nets didn’t want to start messing with their schedules, risking ratings momentum — and ad revenue — in the process.

It didn’t help that the White House gave broadcasters less than 24 hours’ notice of the presser, or that the event was originally scheduled at the odd time of 8:30 p.m. EDT — rather than on the hour.

According to industry insiders, NBC was the first net to cave, suggesting to the White House that if it moved the presser to 8 p.m., the Peacock would likely cover the event. Thursday afternoon, the administration did just that, and NBC announced it was carrying Bush’s remarks.

If ABC had remained the lone broadcaster carrying Bush, it seemed likely the other nets would have held firm and nixed the prez. But once the Peacock said yes to the White House, it was just a matter of time before the other nets folded.

Insiders said Fox was the first to fold after the NBC announcement. CBS, which now dominates the Thursday ratings race, quickly followed.

Hastily shuffled skeds resulted in some interesting Nielsen showdowns and will continue to reverberate throughout the sweeps.

For the first time, Mark Burnett’s “Survivor” was slated to go head-to-head against a full episode of Burnett’s NBC skein, “The Apprentice,” at 9 p.m. on the East Coast, so it will be interesting to see how viewers split their loyalties.

At 10 p.m., CBS’ “CSI” was set to take on NBC’s “ER,” pitting the Peacock’s warhorse against the Eye’s still-mighty monster hit.

Viewers on the West Coast were set to see a more normal primetime sked, with an hour of repeats at 8 or 10 p.m., depending on the network.

Past administrations have typically given several days’ notice for non-emergency policy speeches, such as the one delivered by the president last night. This administration, however, typically makes the request late the night before it wants coverage.

While it’s hard to say just which net will get hit the hardest by the president’s speech, none of the Big Four (save perhaps ABC) were happy about the last-minute switcheroos.

“All the networks are going to lose a lot of money on this; that’s the bottom line,” one web wag said.

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