ABC, CBS duck ‘Seinfeld’ wave

Tactics involve removing shows from Nielsen consideration

NEW YORK — Much like “Seinfeld’s” George Costanza, ABC and CBS were concerned about “shrinkage” Thursday night — Nielsen shrinkage, that is.

In a move to protect their TV stations’ local news ratings and bottom lines, both the Alphabet and Eye webs altered their nets’ skeds by several critical minutes the night of the “Seinfeld” swan song.

“If you know you’re going to get hammered, you move to protect your stations,” said Jack Loftus, a spokesman for Nielsen Media Research in New York.

And so CBS allotted its “48 Hours” newsmag an extra eight minutes, wrapping at 11:08 p.m. ABC ended its presentation of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” 10 minutes early, at 10:50 p.m.

All of the maneuvering was so CBS and ABC TV stations’ local newscasts could request to “retitle” their shows as specials, and thus be dropped from the Nielsen ratings that night. That’s a move only allowed by Nielsen if a network changes its schedule and a local station is forced to run news at an unusual time.

A low-rated newscast usually is no cause for concern on the part of network execs. But during the May sweeps, TV stations’ Nielsen ratings are used to set advertising rates until well into November. A low-rated newscast caused by audience defection to NBC’s “Seinfeld” and its lead-out programming would severely damage ABC and CBS station averages and, consequently, profits.

“There isn’t a station in New York that isn’t retitling their news,” said one CBS news staffer Thursday.

Another CBS news executive called it “a welcome and aggressive move on the part of the network to protect its stations.”

Indeed, according to Nielsen sources, there likely wasn’t an ABC or CBS station in America that didn’t “retitle” its late local newscast in an effort to avoid being crushed by NBC stations’ local news — which were likely to swell from a lead-in from “ER,” which was in turn driven by “Seinfeld’s” hyped exit.

Still, NBC is not taking chances, issuing an edict last month to “all media outlets” — the kind usually reserved for World Series or Olympics footage, according to one CBS exec.

The Peacock insisted that rival stations’ use of final-episode clips be relegated to no more than a minute of the final episode, and for not more than 48 hours after the “Sein”-off.

At WNBC, NBC’s O&O station in Gotham, with a huge audience all but guaranteed, a spokeswoman for the station said she didn’t know and couldn’t determine how much of “Seinfeld” would wind up on the flagship station’s local news.

“We’ll be covering some of it. But this is New York,” said the spokeswoman. “Anything could happen.”

ABC and CBS executives declined to comment on their sked changes.