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Scandal Tapes Present Problem

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 19, 1998; Page B07

Cable news networks' plans to excerpt or rerun the videotape of President Clinton's grand jury testimony during prime time Monday has some broadcast network executives concerned about the effect it might have on the premieres of their new Monday lineups.

The House Judiciary Committee announced that it would feed the entire videotape of Clinton's Aug. 17 testimony about his relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky starting at 9 a.m. Monday. Virtually all of the cable news networks plan to telecast the entire tape unedited, as it's being fed to the press. That includes CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, C-SPAN and Court TV.

C-SPAN will rerun the entire videotape, which is estimated to be about four hours long, starting at 8 p.m. Monday – when prime time begins. C-SPAN goes to 73 million homes. CNN, which is telecast into 75 million homes, is planning a one-hour special on the tapes at 8 Monday night, followed by a two-hour edition of "Larry King Live" devoted to the videotape; CNN will re-telecast the entire tape at 11:30 p.m. Court TV, which goes into about 35 million homes, will turn over all of its regularly scheduled prime-time programming to discussions of the Clinton tape – with clips.

The broadcast networks worry that viewers who can't or don't want to tune in at 9 a.m. will watch the Clinton scandal coverage in prime time.

Monday is the first night of the broadcast networks' 1998-99 season. It's a pivotal night for CBS. The network has scheduled three new shows that it has high hopes will draw a younger audience. They are "King of Queens," starring stand-up comic Kevin James; "The Brian Benben Show," starring "Dream On's" Benben; and "L.A. Doctors," starring Ken Olin. "L.A. Doctors" may have the toughest competition; it's premiering at 10 opposite NBC's season debut of its Monday edition of "Dateline." With the videotape coming out on Monday, NBC has turned over substantial portions of the newsmagazine to coverage and analysis of the Clinton testimony.

"At this point, there is no way to predict what viewers' appetite for the Clinton story will be by prime time on Monday," a CBS spokesman said yesterday. "It could easily reach the saturation point by 8 o'clock, making entertainment programming that much more attractive."

The timing of the Clinton tape release may actually work in favor of NBC's prime-time rollout. Increased tune-in to "Dateline" at 10 may bring a larger than expected audience to NBC's 9-10 p.m. hour; that includes the season debut of "Caroline in the City" and the premiere of NBC's most-talked about new sitcom, "Will & Grace."

Also rolling out its new Monday schedule is fledgling network WB, including the premiere of the new drama series "Hyperion" at 9.

Yesterday, network executives were huddled in meetings to develop contingency plans. "Everybody is playing it by ear," said one.

Fox broadcast network debuted its Monday lineup, "Melrose Place" and "Ally McBeal," this week, and ABC's season kickoff of "Monday Night Football" was Sept. 7.

Not surprisingly, the cable news networks affiliated with broadcast networks aren't planning to turn over their prime time to the Clinton video. Fox News Channel is waiting until 11 p.m. to rerun the videotape in its entirety. That gives the Fox network a chance to run its prime-time lineup and the Fox broadcast stations time to air their important local news programs.

Likewise, MSNBC, cousin to NBC, is waiting until 2 a.m. Tuesday to rerun the tape. That allows NBC to finish broadcasting its prime-time lineup as well as the late-night "Tonight Show With Jay Leno," "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and "Later," which bows out at 2:05 a.m.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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