Networks clear time for Gulf specials, with reports from Baghdad

January 15, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles

The four major news networks will all have specials on the Persian Gulf tonight with anchormen or reporters in Baghdad.

Furthermore, as of late yesterday, meetings were being held at ABC, NBC and CBS on the possibility of pre-empting some prime-time programming, even though the United Nations deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait is not until midnight.

* CNN said it is throwing out all non-Gulf programming tonight.

The 24-hour cable news network has anchorman Bernard Shaw in Baghdad, where he will remain beyond the midnight deadline if he is allowed, a CNN spokesman said yesterday. Substituting for Shaw in Washington will be David French. Shaw -- the only anchorman in Baghdad -- will be reporting throughout the day and night.

CNN said that Shaw is trying to obtain an interview with Saddam Hussein. If that happens, CNN will go to it as soon as it is available. Otherwise, CNN's schedule calls for a special late newscast focusing on the Gulf beginning at 10 tonight and continuing "past midnight."

* ABC will offer a one-hour edition of "Nightline" at 11:30 p.m. on WJZ-TV (Channel 13). The plan late yesterday was for Ted Koppel to be anchoring that broadcast from Amman, Jordan.

* NBC also will offer a special broadcast at 11:30 tonight on WMAR-TV (Channel 2). A spokesman for NBC said yesterday that Tom Brokaw had returned to New York from the Middle East, where he had been anchoring during the weekend. The plan was for Brokaw to be anchoring in New York tonight.

* CBS will have an extended version of "America Tonight" at midnight. on WBAL-TV (Channel 11), with Dan Rather anchoring in New York.

The Gulf crisis will probably keep "America Tonight" on the air indefinitely, even though it had been canceled and was scheduled to have its last broadcast Friday, said Andrew Heyward, an executive producer for CBS News.

Heyward also said that "48 Hours" will table the show it had scheduled for tomorrow and go with a Gulf special instead.

"We're prepared to jettison everything and cover the war for as many weeks as it takes," Heyward said.

* In a related development, PBS reported that viewership for its coverage of the congressional debate this weekend, as the Senate and House gave President Bush the legislation he needed to take military action in the Gulf, drew an audience about 40 percent larger during the day and 32 percent larger at night than its regular programming the week before.

"I think it shows the importance of being involved in these debates," said Jennifer Lawson, the top PBS programmer, "or at least making them available to all of the people in the country -- not just those who can afford to or who are able to subscribe to the C-SPAN coverage."

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