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Outage unplugs NBC plans for makeover

Costner pic hit doubly hard by blackout

NEW YORK — The TV network whacked the hardest by the East Coast blackouts was NBC, which was hoping to score major Nielsen ratings Thursday night with a heavily promoted special edition of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” which featured a makeover by the team from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” not only of Leno but of the “Tonight” studio set.

A spokesman for Nielsen Media Research, which is still going over the numbers for Thursday and Friday, said the blackout shut down about 15% of Nielsen’s nationally metered households.

Preceding Leno at 10 p.m., NBC presented a full-hour, off-Bravo repeat of the most-acclaimed episode of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” following a 9-o’clock repeat of a 60-minute “Will & Grace.”

MSNBC enlists ‘Queer’ experts

The “Queer Eye” experts were even enlisted to visit MSNBC’s “Buchanan & Press” at 6 p.m., putting hosts Pat Buchanan and Bill Press and their studio set under a critical microscope.

The celebrity who had the most to lose from the blackout was probably Kevin Costner, who made a guest appearance on the “Queer Eye” edition of “Tonight” to promote his “Open Range” oater, which opened in multiplexes Friday. That resulted in a potential double whammy: A big chunk of the “Tonight” audience disappeared off the power grid, and three or four showings of the movie went by the boards opening day in electricity-deprived movie theaters.

Still, Costner’s pic came away with an estimated first week’s gross of $14.1 million, slightly above the industry forecast.

News units scramble

At the broadcast networks, news departments had to scramble because two of the three nightly anchors, NBC’s Tom Brokaw and ABC’s Peter Jennings, were on vacation. CBS’ Dan Rather got on the air right after the blackout, but NBC had to enlist Brian Williams to sub for Brokaw. ABC called on Ted Koppel to anchor its coverage, although Jennings, vacationing in Ottawa, filed some reports on the blackout for ABC Radio.

Thursday is not typically a high-powered summer night for cable nets, which tend to steer clear of the CBS and NBC Thursday-night lineups, big ratings-getters even in rerun. But Discovery slotted two hourlong specials — “Jaws of the Pacific” at 9 and “Sharks Under Glass” at 10 — tied to its annual mid-August “Shark Week” marathon, and A&E programmed a one-hour “Biography” at 8 of bestselling novelist Tom Clancy.

Nielsen plans to deliver ratings information on these programs late today. A Nielsen spokesman said the company is evaluating the data from the 85% of its national sample not affected by the blackout.

But getting an accurate read may be complicated by the fact that a few of the networks, both broadcast and cable, shifted some of their programming to provide information on the blackout.

The two biggest local sports events that had to be postponed from Aug. 14 were the San Francisco Giants-New York Mets baseball game on WPIX-TV New York and the Houston Comets-New York Liberty Women’s National Basketball Assn. scheduled for ESPN2.