Politics throw wrench into primetime

Speech, debates have networks scrambling

For all election coverage, visit Wilshire & Washington.

Network scheduling execs are racing to keep up as fallout from the nation’s economic crisis invades primetime.

President Bush’s decision to address the nation threw a wrench into the nets’ premiere week plans Wednesday night. And Republican candidate John McCain’s request to postpone Friday’s planned presidential debate forced the nets to line up replacement programming, just in case.

Bush planned to speak at 9 p.m. ET for about 15 minutes on Wednesday, which meant the nets were planning on just pushing back their schedules accordingly. Hardest hit may be CBS, which had the night’s only 9 p.m. bow, with the return of “Criminal Minds.” Net’s “CSI:NY” return at 10 p.m. would be pushed back as well.

NBC had “America’s Got Talent” scheduled at 9 p.m.; show will be collapsed into a half-hour, allowing the sophomore season debut of “Lipstick Jungle” to still air at 10 p.m.

As for Fox, net announced that “‘Til Death” and “Do Not Disturb” would indeed be disturbed, and pushed by about 15 minutes each.

ABC, meanwhile, lucked out – its Wednesday night sked doesn’t return until Oct. 1.

But David Blaine wasn’t so lucky: The delay meant the magician would have to hang upside down a little longer from his perch in Central Park – where he’d been dangling for more than 60 hours as part of his primetime Alphabet special “David Blaine: Dive of Death.” (Who knew that the title of Blaine’s special would wind up an apt description for the U.S. economy.)

As for Friday, Fox had already lined up a pair of “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” repeats for the night, should the debate be canceled. ABC, NBC and CBS were still mulling their options.

Also scrambling to fill time Wednesday: CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman,” which had originally booked McCain for the night’s broadcast. McCain bowed out, and was set to be replaced by MSNBC host Keith Olbermann.

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