In Depth

Networks Grumbling About Another Obama Primetime Speech

President Obama’s decision to hold another primetime news conference is playing havoc with the networks’ sweeps schedules—and causing some in the industry to grumble about the financial impact.

The president has slated a news conference for Tuesday at 8 p.m. EDT, his second since taking office two months ago. CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox all have confirmed they plan to carry it.

The networks won't be happy about it, however.

Fox, which normally airs the performance episode of "American Idol" on Tuesdays, has just decided to shift that episode to Wednesday, March 25, from 8-10 p.m. The usual Wednesday results show will air on Thursday, March 26, at 8 p.m.

The move means Fox will have to preempt the planned March 25 episode of "Lie to Me," as well as the March 26 episode of "Bones." A repeat of "House" will follow the president's news conference on Tuesday.

The changes mean "Idol" now will face off against CBS' March 26 coverage of NCAA basketball. And "Survivor," which airs a special Wednesday edition on March 25, will battle "Idol" that night.

As for the other networks, NBC plans to shift "The Biggest Loser" into the 9-11 p.m. timeslot, bumping "Law & Order: SVU" for a week. CBS, meanwhile, will shift "NCIS" and "The Mentalist" to 9 and 10 p.m., respectively, preempting "Without a Trace" for a week.

Of even more concern to network executives, however, is the financial impact to broadcasters.

“Every time the president disrupts primetime, the networks lose another couple million dollars,” one TV industry insider said. “In this economy, that’s the last thing we need.”

Networks lose money because presidential appearances are commercial-free, meaning any time the networks cover the president, they lose advertising availabilities that can never be replaced.

The same insider conceded the economic crisis makes these “unusual times,” and that networks understand the president’s desire to communicate to Americans. “If there’s news, they’ll cover it,” the executive said.

President Obama had talked to the networks about a primetime speech following the signing of the economic stimulus bill, but opted against it, in part, perhaps, because the networks indicated their displeasure in a Washington Post article published Feb. 6.

“His economic stimulus package apparently does not extend to the TV networks,” the Post quoted one network executive as complaining.

In addition to his first primetime press conference last month, the president delivered an address to both houses of Congress.

Slate.com is reporting that President Obama is mulling the idea of shorter, 10-minute “fireside chats” to keep Americans up to date on the economy.

(1:45 p.m.: Updated with Fox "Idol" plans)