Wrapping up his press conference Thursday night, President Bush said, ”I don’t want to cut into some of these TV shows that are getting ready to air, for the sake of the economy.” Too late. The hour-long address, only the fourth primetime press conference Bush has given since taking office in 2001, wreaked havoc with the first night of May sweeps month, when the network ratings come under special scrutiny so that new advertising rates can be set. As a result, the networks had to reschedule special sweeps programs for next week, leaving a ripple effect likely to last throughout the month.
According to the Associated Press, out of the four major broadcast networks, only ABC was initially willing to air the president’s remarks live — no great sacrifice, since ABC has no Thursday night lineup to speak of. (The network said it would push its scheduled airing of the film Sweet Home Alabama to next week.) So as not to displace The Apprentice and ER, NBC successfully lobbied the White House to move the conference from 8:30 EDT to 8. With that move, CBS and Fox, which had initially balked at airing the press conference, agreed to do so late on Thursday afternoon. Still, CBS, Fox, and NBC all cut away at 9 when the president was still talking; yes, matters of state are important, but viewers won’t stand for the pre-emption of even a minute of Paris and Nicole on The Simple Life.