NBC avoids ‘Camelot’ conflict

Senator, exex say airing telepic close to election is 'inappropriate'

NBC has averted a potential showdown with Sen. Edward Kennedy — and CBS — by pushing back the airdate of its upcoming Kennedy femmes miniseries.

Peacock will now air the four-hour “Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot” during the first weekend of the February sweeps instead of the mini’s originally announced Sunday and Monday, Nov. 5-6 (Daily Variety, June 1).

The rescheduling comes after reps for the senior Democratic senator from Massachusetts contacted NBC officials and made known their displeasure with the web’s decision to air the project days before Kennedy stands for re-election Nov. 7.

In addition, the move means “Camelot” will no longer square off against part one of “Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis,” the CBS mini about the former first lady skedded to run Nov. 5 and 8.

Nothing new

While NBC’s “Camelot” contains no new bombshells about Ted Kennedy or his various personal scandals, it does touch on his tumultuous marriage to former spouse Joan Kennedy. Reps for the senator believed it was fundamentally unfair for NBC to air such a dramatization so close to the election.

How much pressure Kennedy’s staff exerted on NBC is unclear, but Peacock execs ultimately agreed with Kennedy’s staff and decided to push back “Camelot” late last week.

“Sen. Kennedy is running for re-election on Nov. 7, and we realized that airing the special two nights before the election was inappropriate. To avoid any possible interference with the election, we decided to change the air date,” said NBC West Coast topper Scott Sassa.

Airing “Camelot” in mid-October, a few weeks before the election, might have muted any charges NBC was playing politics with its mini, but the Kennedy camp apparently believed any broadcast prior to the election would be unfair.

Timing everything

NBC brass considered running the mini later in the November sweeps, but eventually decided a broadcast so soon after the Eye’s Kennedy project ran would make the Peacock pic seem like a rip-off.

In place of “Camelot,” NBC will sub a “Saturday Night Live” special pegged to the election season on Sunday, Nov. 5. Regular series programming is planned for Nov. 6.

The NBC move deprives ratings watchers of what was shaping up to be one of the more interesting battles of the fall season.

Some analysts believed CBS, with its inherent strength on Sunday nights, would have likely scored a win over NBC’s “Camelot.” As a result, many expected NBC to eventually blink and move its mini — even if election year politics weren’t involved.

Peacock brass, however, believe the quality of their project might have given it the edge. Indeed, had politics not intervened, NBC execs insist they would have kept their mini right where it was.

“This was all about fairness. This wasn’t an issue of, ‘We don’t like the way our miniseries turned out,’ ” one NBC insider said. “We really love the project. We’re disappointed.”

Jill Hennessy (“Law & Order”), Lauren Holly (“Chicago Hope”) and Leslie Stefanson (“As Good as It Gets”) star as Jackie, Ethel and Joan Kennedy, respectively, in “Camelot.” Pic is from exec producer Shari Singer, wife of NBC movies and minis topper Steve White.

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