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President Obama’s televised primetime addresses are becoming a tougher sell to the broadcast networks than his sweeping health care reform has been to Middle America.
A day after news broke of the president’s plan to address a joint session of Congress on health care issues in primetime Wednesday, none of the Big Four networks have said it would carry the address live.
Among other things, the nets have been waiting to hear when the address will start, with sources indicating Thursday night that the White House was leaning toward 8 p.m.
After a brief honeymoon after Obama’s January inauguration, the broadcast networks have become increasingly frustrated by the frequency of his requests for primetime coverage. The pre-emptions wreak havoc on the networks’ schedules and cost millions of dollars in lost ad revenue.
Fox became the first network to break ranks in April by declining to carry the president’s news conference after reportedly losing as much as $6 million by moving “American Idol” in February to accommodate Obama’s second news conference.
In July, Fox again declined to cover an Obama news conference, with the other three broadcast networks also showing reluctance to surrender primetime real estate. It took several days and an agreement by the White House to move the event up an hour to 8 p.m. ET to get ABC and NBC in line.
To avoid a similar time-shifting snafu, the administration this time has been polling the networks about whether to schedule the live event at 8 or 9 p.m.
Regardless of the White House’s final start-time decision, Fox is expected to sit out the Obama speech again, referring its viewers to sister cable channel Fox News.
The network has the most at stake because it premieres its new Wednesday lineup next week, including the season premiere of “So You Think You Can Dance” and the freshman season of the much-hyped dramedy “Glee.”
On Wednesday night, the network aired “Dance” and “Glee” specials heavily promoting next week’s premieres. On Thursday, it issued a couple of news releases touting the Wednesday debuts.
Also working in favor of a decision to stick to the regular schedule is the fact that Fox’s “Dance” was a big ratings winner in July when airing opposite Obama’s news conference on ABC, CBS and NBC.
Like the last time, ABC or NBC would have to move their highest-rated summer series, “Wipeout” and “America’s Got Talent,” respectively. If the Congress session airs at 8 p.m., the two shows again could be pitted against each other at 9 p.m.
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