With short notice to the TV networks, President Barack Obama made a statement to the nation at 9:30 PM ET tonight, in which he authorized limited airstrikes in Iraq. The address fell during a busy hour for the broadcast networks, with original programming on all four major networks — live Big Brother on CBS, Rookie Blue on ABC, Gang Related on Fox and comedies on NBC, including Working the Engels at 9:30 PM. What’s more, there are a number of regional pre-season football games around the country tonight, including in top markets. (CBS‘ primetime is pre-empted by football in 22% of the country, including in New York and Los Angeles.)
Of the four networks, I hear only ABC and NBC opted to cut into East Coast primetime for a 10-12-minute coverage of the speech carried by ABC News and NBC News, respectively. I hear CBS and Fox did not pre-empt their primetime programming though Fox allowed its local stations to tap into the feed of sibling cable news network Fox News. In the nation’s top market, New York, CBS’ station WCBS carried the Jets-Colts pre-season game, which was not interrupted for Obama’s statement. Fox’s station in New York also did not air the speech, staying with its regular programming instead.
To accommodate the coverage on the East Coast without disrupting cop drama Rookie Blue, ABC made a last-minute switch between NY Med, which moved to 9 PM, and Rookie Blue, shifted to 10 PM. The change is only in effect for the Eastern and Central time zones. NBC pre-empted Working the Engels. The NBC News report coincided with the network’s West Coast evening news telecasts, and NBC News’ Brian Williams, who anchored the Iraq speech report, continued anchoring a live West Coast edition of NBC Nightly News. Coincidentally, joining Williams in the report that pre-empted family sitcom Working the Engels, about widow Ceil Engel and the rest of her clan, was NBC News’ Richard Engel from Tel Aviv.