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Networks prep for primaries

Super Tuesday set for primetime

ABC is planning mega coverage of Super Tuesday, blowing out primetime to offer wall-to-wall coverage of the Feb. 5 primaries.

Alphabet’s move reflects the high level of viewer interest in the wide open 2008 race for the White House, demonstrated by record ratings for CNN’s coverage of the most recent Democratic debate. With the cable newsers drawing big Nielsen numbers for political coverage, ABC News is also pushing hard to underscore its commitment to full coverage of the campaign.

CBS and NBC have announced plans for an hour of coverage in primetime. However, industry insiders believe CBS is very close to expanding that to two hours. Peacock will also offer results via its MSNBC service.

ABC’s decision to ditch entertainment programming for news is also partially attributable to the realities of the months-old Writers Guild of America strike. Net’s current Tuesday lineup is filled mostly with repeats, making it a bit easier to cede so much real estate to the news division.

While ABC News hasn’t officially announced its Super Tuesday plans, net’s press website is touting the multihour event as “Super Tuesday Showdown: Coast to Coast.” It’s expected Charles Gibson will anchor the night, with contributions from the usual mix of pundits such as Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos.

ABC will offer affils live coverage starting at 8 p.m. on the East Coast and lasting through at least 1 a.m. EST. Local stations will cut in at least twice per hour, at around 25 and 55 minutes past the hour.

On the West Coast, primetime coverage will last until 10 p.m. PST, though ABC will stay live if events warrant. “Nightline” will be preempted on the East Coast but will air a live election special in the Pacific and Mountain time zones.

Super Tuesday won’t be the first time this year ABC News has taken over primetime for election programming. Earlier this month, it broadcast back-to-back Democratic and Republican debates on a Saturday night.

The networks’ interest in the 2008 campaign reverses the recent trend in primetime coverage of politics. In the last few campaigns, news divisions have had to fight hard to get airtime since entertainment execs haven’t wanted to give up time to what had been seen as low-rated programming.

Some nets had even begun talking of doing away with most coverage of the GOP and Democratic nominating conventions. Indeed, in 2004, the major nets announced that they would only cover that year’s convention on three nights (instead of all four) and for just one hour each night.

Now, with the possibility of a delegate fight all the way up to the conventions, network execs are preparing for the possibility of offering dramatically expanded coverage of the conventions during the last week of August and the first week of September, industry insiders said.