The TV Column by Lisa de Moraes: President Obama Counts to 100

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, April 24, 2009

President Obama might take an additional $9 million to $10 million out of the purse of the broadcast TV industry when he stages another of his news conferences next week to talk about his efforts to bail out the banking and automotive industries.

In fairness, he'll probably talk about heath care, Iraq and Bo, as well.

Obama's camp is asking for the 8 p.m. hour this coming Wednesday. That date, not coincidentally, marks his 100th day in office. He is expected to use the news conference to take control of the inevitable 100-days-in-office news-cycle blather -- first-100-days navel-gazing being a time-honored journalistic tradition.

Sadly for broadcasters, April 29 -- Wednesday -- also falls in the May sweeps ratings derby, which started last night. In honor of the sweeps, networks had scheduled actual original episodes of scripted shows Wednesday at 8 -- except NBC, which had planned to air a "Law & Order" rerun.

Fox, on the other hand, had planned to air the freshman drama series "Lie to Me," which has already been whacked so many times by Obama's image-polishing machine that it's starting to look personal.

Now, instead of "Lie to Me," Fox might feel it has no choice but to join in the pile-on that airs "Dollars Out the Door."

Network execs got word yesterday morning that Obamavision was making another return visit, sending them scrambling to decide whether to air, how to reschedule planned programming, etc. Really, how hard would it have been to count 100 days out from Obama's first day in office in anticipation that something like this would happen, and get out ahead of this headache? The guy's nothing if not consistent when it comes to on-camera time.

In fact, this makes the fourth time in three months Obama has preempted prime time to take his message directly to the people. Obama took over the 8 o'clock hour for a news conference Monday, Feb. 9; he gave his Not Quite State of the Union Address at 9 on Feb. 24. And he staged another news conference in the 8 o'clock hour on March 24.

Should a broadcast network opt not to carry Obama's latest news conference, viewers are sure to find it on Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC and many other outlets. Still, commercial broadcasters are very reluctant to opt out of a presidential speech to the country, or a news conference. They seem to get the whole public service/public airwaves thing when there is breaking news, though it's unclear whether next week's confab will include any.

But broadcast TV, like so many other industries, is having a tough time these days. What broadcast networks have to sell is time, and when it's gone, it's gone forever.

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"Stability" and "consistency" being the mantras at the broadcast networks these days, ABC went ahead and announced early pickups for the 2009-10 television season.

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