Other networks juggling sweeps schedules

While Fox sticks its neck out this week and refuses to air President Obama’s Wednesday night press conference, the other broadcast networks are quietly rooting it on.

In a statement sent out Monday afternoon, Fox confirmed it had opted not to air the presidential news conference, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday and meant to mark Obama’s first 100 days in office. Instead, Fox will air an episode of “Lie to Me,” as planned, into “American Idol” at 9.

“Fox will be alerting viewers with an onscreen graphic at the top of the 8 p.m. (ET) hour that the press conference is available on Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Network,” the net said.

ABC, CBS and NBC will juggle their skeds in order to present the press conference, the third in primetime since Obama took office. But given that it’s May sweeps, net execs are grousing about having to once again make last-minute arrangements to accommodate the president.

“When we lose a time period like that, the money is just gone,” said one network exec. “The ad revenue can’t come back; it’s not shifted. We’re hurting too.”

One exec said the networks have already “whispered” to the White House that “this is a little too much” given the number of preemptions they’ve faced since January.

Although Fox is likely to take heat this time around for refusing to carry the press conference, execs at other networks say they’ll likely join in the next time — and use Fox’s decision not to air this one as an excuse.

Fox, meanwhile, is stressing that the decision not to air the Obama press conference was not political in nature and not meant to be a precedent-setting decision. The net didn’t air a George W. Bush press conference in 2001, it said, and hasn’t run certain debates in the past.

The network also pointed out that it’s the only major broadcaster without a news division, and normally depends on Fox News Channel for a feed. (Fox News Channel is operated under a separate division from Fox Broadcasting.)

But that explanation probably won’t help the perception wars, in which the brand name “Fox” is seen as politically right-leaning — thanks in part to the top primetime stars on the Fox News Channel. Even though the decision not to run the speech came out of the entertainment division, it still may be seen as a swipe by the conglom against Obama.

Indeed, insiders said the pro and con emails are hitting network execs fast and furiously, with anti-Obama forces sending notes of support and Obama supporters expressing outrage.

The real reason for not running the address is much more financially based: Fox would have been hit the hardest with the Wednesday preemption, given the relative health of “Lie to Me” vs. the underperforming comedies on ABC and CBS and the repeats on NBC. With the season drawing to a close, “Lie to Me” might have been hurt by being preempted this week.

The preemption means ABC will now move this week’s episodes of “Scrubs” and “Better Off Ted” (which also serves as “Ted’s” season finale) to Tuesday, May 5. The Eye, meanwhile, will push “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Gary Unmarried” back a week — which means they’ll now air their season finales Wednesday, May 20. That, in turn, means the two-hour season finale for “Criminal Minds” has been bumped to 9 p.m. that night.

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