In what may be a network first, CBS has apologized for beating its broadcast competitors to a breaking news story.
The story that CBS News beat ABC News and NBC News to on Wednesday night was that Yasser Arafat, who'd been in a coma for days, had died.
But -- and here's where it really gets bad -- in order to be first with the story, CBS News broke in on the last four minutes of an original episode of "CSI: NY." By the time the news report, which included what appeared to be an obituary prepared in advance, was over, so was "CSI: NY."
As a result, viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones -- in other words a big chunk of the country -- missed the whodunit moment of this newest edition of "CSI," the network's most popular franchise. And, as affected CBS stations found out yesterday, hell hath no fury like "CSI" fans deprived of their whodunit moment.
"An overly aggressive CBS News producer jumped the gun with a report that should have been offered to local stations for their late news. We sincerely regret the error," the network said yesterday in a statement.
CBS has promised to rebroadcast that Wednesday episode of "CSI: NY" tonight at 10 p.m., instead of the rerun of the mothership program, "CSI," which had been scheduled for that time period.
So just how did this entertainment interruptus occur? According to a CBS News spokeswoman, a senior producer with the division's overnight broadcast should not have interrupted prime-time programming with the report without having first consulted a CBS News higher-up.
CBS News had put in place a procedure on how to handle Arafat's expected demise, clearly spelling out that if it occurred in prime time, it would be handled with a crawl across the screen, the rep explained. Let's not forget the networks are in the midst of the all-important November sweep, when they actually offer viewers new episodes of their favorite shows, rather than the menu of rehash they serve much of the rest of the year.
On Wednesday night, ABC and NBC waited until the end of their 10 p.m. programs to report that Arafat had died.
When asked about the fate of the producer, the CBS News spokeswoman replied, "We do not comment on personnel issues." Sounds ominous.