Obama May Sweep Aside TV Schedule

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.

The no-brainer list includes "Dancing With the Stars," "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost," "Private Practice," "Brothers and Sisters," "The Bachelor," "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "Desperate Housewives," "Supernanny," "Wife Swap" and "America's Funniest Home Videos," which will celebrate its 20th season when it returns next season and is the longest-running prime-time show in ABC history.

Also on the list, "Ugly Betty," which has had a rough time ratings-wise this season and was reported in many places to be "on the bubble." But, of course, ABC Studios is a production partner in "Betty" and this is its third season -- and four seasons' worth of episodes would make it a much more viable syndication candidate. Presto -- fourth-season order.

ABC also appears to have picked up a new series called "Flash Forward" for next season. Officially, it has not yet been picked up, but given that ABC is going to launch a stealth promo campaign for the show in the 100th episode of "Lost" next week, it's kind of a given. Happily, "Flash Forward" is also produced at ABC Studios -- so cozy.

In "Flash Forward," based on Robert Sawyer's sci-fi novel, everyone in the world blacks out for 2 minutes 17 seconds and winds up with a vision of the future. On the bright side, it stars Joseph Fiennes.

* * *

"The Tonight Show" will be in repeats for the first two nights of the May sweeps, after Jay Leno left NBC's Burbank studios yesterday afternoon and checked himself into a hospital for observation. NBC said last night that Leno was doing well and that he would be back at work Monday.

Missing yesterday's taping was a first for Leno in his 17 years as the show's host, NBC rep Tracy St. Pierre told the TV Column. He's never missed a day of work on "Tonight" -- unless you count the time he and Katie Couric swapped jobs for the day. Leno went to work yesterday but left midday and was driven to the hospital by a show staffer.

No one's saying what's ailing Leno, though his rep told the Associated Press that whatever it is is "mild."

There has never been a guest host on "Tonight" during Leno's tenure. Yesterday, NBC scheduled reruns to cover for him during his hospitalization. Last night's episode was to have featured Ryan Reynolds, Jules Sylvester and the swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy; instead, NBC aired a rerun with Paul Giamatti, Emma Roberts and Prince. Tonight's guests were to have been Anderson Cooper, Kathleen Madigan and Brad Paisley; the repeat episode had not been picked at press time.

Leno, who turns 59 on Tuesday, is leaving "Tonight" on May 29 and will begin hosting a weeknight prime-time talk/variety show for the network in the fall.

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