By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Barack Obama's presidential campaign is getting a bargain for the half-hour of prime time it's bought on CBS and NBC, and is in talks about buying on ABC and Fox.
The Democratic presidential candidate's camp is paying less than $1 million to each of the two networks to air its campaign-related program on Wednesday, Oct. 29. That's just six days before the election and the anniversary of Black Tuesday in 1929 -- the notorious day in stock market history that heralded the start of the Great Depression.
Obama's campaign might want to create a "roadblock" with the show, which is to say, to air it in the same time period on all four major broadcast networks.
Fox is said to be amenable to selling the half-hour to Obama's campaign -- these are called "time buys" -- in the event there is no Game 6 of the World Series that night. Fox is contractually obligated to carry the game if this year's Series comes to that. Otherwise, the network has nothing to lose airing Obama programming in the time slot, given that its World Series fallback plan is always called "Some Rerun."
Late yesterday, ABC and Obama's camp were still in talks about whether the network will sell the first half of the time slot, which it had earmarked for another episode of hour-long dramedy "Pushing Daisies." The show is one of last year's freshman series hurt by the 100-day writers' strike and that the network is attempting to relaunch this fall, but so far without much luck. ABC execs may believe there is opportunity for "Pushing Daisies" to get more sampling on Oct. 29 if the network does not join in the Obama time buy.
With CBS and NBC's scripted programming scrubbed to make way for Obama, Fox possibly airing baseball and CW running the reality show "America's Next Top Model," "Pushing Daisies" would be the only scripted series in the time slot on broadcast network TV.
Less than $1 million is considerably under what NBC and CBS would otherwise get for the 10 or 11 ad "units" they run during that 8 to 8:30 p.m. half-hour.
But Obama is not getting a price break; the campaign will be charged what's called the "lowest unit cost," in compliance with federal law.
What will Obama get for his not quite $2 million? Wednesday night at 8 has not been a real ratings bonanza this season. This week, for instance, CBS averaged 7.2 million voting-age (18 years and up) viewers for the Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine," and NBC clocked 5.7 million viewers in that age bracket for its resuscitation of "Knight Rider." ABC averaged 5.2 million voting-age viewers with "Pushing Daisies" and Fox 9.2 million with "Bones."
On the other hand, The Barack Obama Show might improve the time-slot performance for those networks carrying it. Pre-election programming has been among the most watched this year. Tuesday's presidential debate between John McCain and Obama drew about 66 million viewers, and, the week before, the vice presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin logged more than 73 million -- a record for a veep debate and the second-most-watched debate ever, of any kind, VP or presidential.
Obama's time-buy simulcast will be the first by a presidential candidate since Ross Perot peppered the prime-time landscape with a whopping 15 telecasts during his 1992 presidential bid. Overall, the Perot shows drew an average of nearly 12 million viewers. His one simulcast, on ABC and CBS, on Nov. 2, 1992, bagged 26 million.
The Obama campaign program airing on even two broadcast networks just six days before the election puts the squeeze on McCain to make some kind of similar move. Each camp, for instance, purchased a national ad during NBC's telecast of the highly rated Summer Olympics in Beijing.
But McCain's campaign agreed to accept federal matching funds, which limits his campaign spending in the weeks leading up to the election.
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Barack Obama's representatives had been in talks with the broadcast networks about doing a roadblock paid show on other nights, including Nov. 3, the night before the election. But that's the night NBC has scheduled its traditional pre-election "Saturday Night Live" prime-time presidential bash.
This election cycle, "SNL" for the first time will air four election-related prime-time shows, the first of which aired Thursday with great ratings results. The 30-minute special, from 9:30 to 10 p.m., clocked nearly 11 million viewers. NBC said it was the most-watched regularly scheduled "Saturday Night Live" broadcast since Jan. 20, 2001.
The broadcast featured a spoof of the second presidential debate and its host, Tom Brokaw, as well as an expanded "Weekend Update" segment.
At this rate, the pre-election "SNL"-cast could conceivably give the show's 2000 presidential bash a ratings run for its money. That special, headlined with an appearance by candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore, attracted approximately 16 million viewers.