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October 10, 2008

Thoughts on 'The Obama Show'

82595166_3 That Barack Obama's campaign has selected a Wednesday at 8 p.m. slot to run its half-hour infomercial is pretty convenient for networks, given that some broadcasters are struggling to draw viewers to that time period anyway -- "Obama ... cancels 'Knight Rider,'" is how Gawker gleefully put it.

And Obama really should trump the talking car. By the numbers, Obama is one of the biggest breakout TV stars of the season. His convention speech drew more than 38 million viewers. You know which primetime TV series drew 38 million viewers? None.

Some of Obama, John McCain, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin's recent primetime appearances (the speeches, the debates) attracted more viewers than the usual audiences for "Grey's Anatomy" and "Heroes" combined. While the Big Four broadcasters (CBS largely an exception) have struggled to retain viewer interest in key returning shows. Now, there's a host of rules governing the transactions between candidates and networks, and election season news specials are not considered directly profitable for broadcasters. But, just looking at the ratings, this fall the networks should be paying the politicians.

Also, networks will almost certainly not be able to run ads during Obama's ad to otherwise monetize the time (though NBC's Ben Silverman could presumably negotiate some product placement -- hey, the senator needs to drive places, doesn't he?). But heavy tune-in for the Obama special could give 9 p.m. shows a stronger lead-in than, say, recent episodes of "Pushing Daisies."

Lingering questions:

-- What's the format of "The Obama Show?" The campaign has been mum so far.

-- What will CNN and Fox News air during Obama's ad?

ABC News reports MSNBC is also on board to air the special, presumably through an ad sales bundle deal with NBC. But this is the sort of unusual and high-profile political event that the other cable news networks will make an effort to cover whether Obama buys time on their channels or not.

Such is the strangeness of the current political and TV industry landscape.

Viewer interest in this election is so high ... and audience interest in entertainment programming is so half-hearted ... that Obama is paying for airtime that some media outlets would probably give him for free.


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