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NBC, Fox to pre-empt shows for Bush speech

CBS, ABC to wait until Monday to decide whether or not to air address
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

At least two of the Big Four broadcast networks will carry President Bush’s address to the nation on immigration Monday.

As of Friday, NBC and Fox said they would carry the president’s speech from 8 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. EDT. Both ABC and CBS deferred the decision on whether to carry until sometime Monday.

Some of the networks were said to be annoyed that the White House had timed the Oval Office address during the May Sweeps, that critical time in the broadcast year when the networks and their affiliates fight for ratings. At least one show, Fox’s “Prison Break,” was scheduled to have its season finale at 8 p.m. Monday.

Fox said late Friday that the “Prison Break” finale would begin at 8:20 p.m. EDT/7:20 p.m. CDT, after the president’s speech concluded. Fox’s hit “24” will air 20 minutes later in both time zones; Mountain and Pacific time zones aren’t affected.

Meanwhile, NBC will air an abbreviated version of the special two-hour edition of “Deal or No Deal” from 8:25-10 p.m. on the East Coast, following the president’s address.

“It’s always tough in sweeps,” said one executive, who explained that the networks usually differentiate between a White House request for air time and a notification that a speech would occur if the networks were interested in televising.

In Friday’s case, the White House, through new press secretary Tony Snow, requested the airtime. Bush is set to discuss his plans for immigration reform, centering on a guest-worker program and he could address whether U.S. troops would provide security on the U.S.-Mexican border. Immigration has become a central issue in the U.S. after weeks of immigration protests in cities all across the country and work in Congress on an immigration bill.

“We’re looking for a little more indication from the White House if he will break news or make an announcement,” said one network executive, who asked not to be named.

It’s no more unusual for networks to consider a request than it is for the administration to ask for it during an important TV period. In the last year, the networks had balked at covering a speech live but ended up taking the feed anyway.

In May 2004, the White House had requested coverage of the president’s speech at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., on what was the last Monday of the May sweeps. NBC, Fox and ABC instead went on its normally scheduled programming, including NBC’s “Fear Factor,” Fox’s “The Swan” finale and ABC’s “A Beautiful Mind” premiere.