Broadcasters, cable news networks prepare for impeachment hearings

Viewers, syndicators prepare for regular daytime TV schedules to be disrupted

(Editor’s Note: This post will be continuously updated with any information on who is carrying the impeachment hearings. – T.H.) 

If you are a fan of daytime TV, get ready for a serious reality check.

Beginning Wednesday, the major broadcast networks and cable news channels will begin carrying impeachment hearings involving President Trump as they head into the public phase.

The hearings begin at 9 a.m. Central and at 10 a.m. on Friday. Hearings are also scheduled from Tuesday thru Thursday next week, although times were not set.

ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS will all carry the hearings as will CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and C-Span. The hearings will also be streamed live on each network’s platform. For example, CBS News’ streaming news service CBSN plans to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage.

This means regularly scheduled programming will be pre-empted, including network programs such as The View and Price Is Right and numerous syndicated talk shows Live With Kelly and Ryan, Rachael Ray, Kelly Clarkson, Tamron Hall, and more.

The potential pre-emptions come at a time when the television business is in the middle of the November sweeps. While the major networks have downplayed them in recent years – especially in prime-time, local stations and syndicators still depend on these periods to charge advertising rates as any disruptions could affect their national ratings.

Moreover, at least in Chicago and a few other markets where it airs in the afternoon (early fringe), the impeachment hearings could pre-empt Jeopardy!, which is in the middle of their Tournament Of Champions featuring 32-game winner James Holzhauer and the contestant who knocked him off his winning perch, Emma Boettcher. Both are meeting Thursday and Friday in the finals – with the latter possibly pre-empted locally for impeachment coverage if it runs past 3 p.m. (Jeopardy airs at 3:30 p.m. here on ABC 7.)

The last disruption of this type took place in 1998 when President Bill Clinton faced an impeachment trial, covered by the broadcast networks and cable channels. But the biggest disruption took place in 1994 and 1995 when the O.J. Simpson murder trial took place. Even though the major broadcast networks did not have gavel-to-gavel coverage, viewership was impacted for over a year as viewers flocked to Court TV (then a cable network) to watch the proceedings.

As for PBS, the network plans to carry the impeachment hearings, but came under fire from some quarters for deciding not to air same-day repeats in prime-time – something the service did during Nixon’s impeachment hearings in 1973, enabling viewers who weren’t home during the day a chance to watch. Last Friday, former PBS journalist Bill Myers and Common Dreams’ Michael Winship took out an ad in the New York Times, calling for PBS to air the hearings like they did back then. PBS plans to provide extensive coverage during the PBS NewsHour, Amanpour & Company, and on-demand on all PBS digital platforms and airing a replay of the hearings on its World digital subchannel .(Moyers’ pleas do seem to be out of touch.)

On Tuesday, Washington D.C. PBS member station WETA announced they would carry same-day repeats of the hearings at night. 

As of this writing, the programming plans for WTTW Wednesday and Friday aren’t known, but during the Justice Kavanaugh hearings, the station opted to air coverage on its Prime digital subchannel (11.2) in order not to interrupt its kids programming on its main (11.1) channel. Both Prime and World (11.3) are carried by some cable systems, but not all, including satellite carriers DirecTV and Dish.

Here are the plans for other local stations:

– Nexstar’s WGN-TV said on its newscast Tuesday it plans to air gavel-to-gavel coverage Wednesday and Friday.

– Fox-owned WFLD-TV’s plans were revealed via TVNewscheck (here’s a cleaned-up, translated version of the memo):

  • WFLD plans on taking the feed from the “Level 2” special report of the impeachment hearings over the air and digitally Wednesday.
  • WFLD will monitor events during the day, and will break [into] programming [whenever possible.]
  • WFLD will monitor the events of Wednesday and then decide on the plan for Friday’s coverage. There is a good chance [the hearings could air] on Fox 32 again, as well.

WFLD has no plans to air any impeachment coverage on sister station WPWR (My50) – at least for now.

With sister network Fox News covering the hearings, the Fox broadcast network is leaving each individual station to decide how much of the impeachment hearings they want to carry.

With so many different ways to watch television in 2019, Trump’s impeachment hearings are going to take on a decidedly different vibe. Millions of viewers tuned in to Nixon’s impeachment hearings coined “the summer’s hottest soap opera”, sending daytime’s homes-using-television levels to record numbers. But today, viewers are going to have different platforms to watch, and coverage is likely more tailored to how you feel about President Trump whether you like him (Fox News) or dislike him (MSNBC).

And the hearings may not have the same influence as the Nixon hearings did as many voters have most likely made up their minds about trump and may not tune in, while other daytime viewers who are not interested are likely to head to their local CW or My Network TV affiliate, entertainment cable networks, or streaming.

So how many days the impeachment hearings take? No one knows for sure. But for the television industry’s sake – and for networks and syndicators, it better not be too many.

(Updated at 9:44 p.m.) 

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