UPDATED: NBC’s New York flagship station thumbed its nose at the network Thursday night and took President Obama’s speech live, rather than airing The Biggest Loser at 8 PM, as NBC had planned. Fox’s O&O’s all carried the speech live as well, including WNYW in the country’s largest TV market.
Wednesday, the broadcast networks made news of their own when they decided not to carry Obama’s 15-minute speech live from the White House on the East Coast. ABC instead stuck with the fall finale of Grey’s Anatomy, CBS with The Big Bang Theory, NBC with The Biggest Loser and Fox with Bones.
Instead of NBC’s fat-farm series, WNBC viewers saw Obama outline plans to grant a reprieve from deportation to about 5 million immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally. The new measures allow them to apply for a three-year work permit if they can pass a background check, register with the government and submit biometric data.
WNBC did not stand alone; up and down the East Coast, station execs gave the raspberry to their networks’ decision to forgo Obama’s speech (WCBS and WABC, the New York stations of CBS and ABC, respectively, were not among them).
But the NBC, CBS and Fox stations in Washington D.C., for instance, thought their viewers should hear Obama ask Americans, “Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility and give their kids a better future?” Washington’s ABC station thought its viewers should hear McDreamy say whatever Shonda Rhimes had written for him this week.
ABC’s Boston station, however, opted to carry Obama live. In Atlanta, the NBC and Fox stations carried Obama live too. Some station groups (Gannett, Hearst, etc.) had requested to slip network and program Obama on their stations affected by the network’s head-scratcher, and they got permission, insiders say.
It is, in fairness, easier for a station exec to make the call to go with POTUS rather than the No. 4-rated primetime show in the time slot: The Biggest Loser; it’s a harder call when you’re contemplating a shove of the No. 1 show: The Big Bang Theory. “We believe that the President’s speech and plan for immigration reform is important information for our community,” Marla Drutz, VP and General Manager of Detroit’s NBC station WDIV, said Thursday of her decision to push network programming in order to air Obama’s speech live.