Inside Move: ‘Apprentice,’ ‘CSI’ swap shifts

Did Eye blink by not running episode?

In the game that is network television, you can run — but you can’t hide.

That certainly seems to be the lesson to emerge from the past few days, as CBS and NBC have been engaged in a game of chicken over the Peacock’s new reality skein “The Apprentice.”

On Friday, Eye confirmed it had decided not to air an original episode of “CSI” Wednesday at 8 p.m. opposite what was supposed to be the timeslot bow of “The Apprentice” (Daily Variety, Jan. 6). Instead, that firstrun seg will air in “CSI’s” normal 9 p.m. Thursday slot on Jan. 15.

Also Friday, NBC said it was keeping “The Apprentice” on Thursday for at least another week. Episode two of the Mark Burnett/Donald Trump-produced skein — which got off to a rousing ratings start last week — will air Jan. 15 at 8:30 p.m., sandwiched between a “Friends” flashback and a “Will & Grace” original.

As if that weren’t enough to confuse affiliates, reporters and anyone else paying attention, CBS late Friday let it be known that the repeat of “Cold Case” scheduled for Jan. 15 at 8 p.m. will be replaced by a repeat of … yup, “CSI.” That same “Cold Case” repeat will instead air Jan. 14 at 8 p.m. — a slot NBC now will fill with a condensed repeat of “The Apprentice’s” premiere.

Just who moved first — or second or third — is unclear.

NBC insiders said the “Apprentice” shift is simply designed to take maximum advantage of next week’s semi-original episode of “Friends.” Indeed, even before “The Apprentice” bowed, Peacock execs said shifting the show to avoid “CSI” didn’t make sense, since CBS could simply move “CSI” again if it wanted to.

CBS gave no reason for its changes, but it seems likely Eye execs decided any short-term benefits gained by tweaking NBC weren’t enough to make up for any potential harm to the massively important “CSI” franchise. What’s more, the producers of the Eye’s biggest hit probably weren’t keen to be used as ammunition in network squabbling.

Still, the bottom line is that — barring any more switches — episode two of “The Apprentice” will go head-to-head with “CSI” in the 9 o’clock half-hour on Thursday.

And the big winner in all this schedule-shifting could be Fox. Its Wednesday finale of “The Simple Life” now faces repeat competish from both CBS and NBC.

Meanwhile, all the behind-the-scenes drama threatened to overshadow a more public battle over “The Apprentice.”

On Friday, the New York Post’s Page Six column printed an excerpt from an upcoming edition of “Access Hollywood” in which Trump bashes CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves.

Trump claims Moonves made a mistake by letting several Trump-owned beauty pageants, including Miss Universe, move to NBC.

“I must tell you that if I were Sumner Redstone and I saw the bad deal he made on the Miss Universe contest, he wouldn’t be running CBS,” Trump said. “So that’s really what happened, and we’re honored because they put their best show against us.”

The Post then quoted a CBS spokesman as saying Moonves “is running the No. 1 network in television and we’re somehow managing to limp along without the Miss Universe pageant,” with an Eye “insider” adding, “Trump’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest horse’s asses remains unchallenged.”

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