It was off again, on again, off again yesterday for the three broadcast networks as they left continuous coverage of the war in the gulf and resumed regular entertainment programming.
CBS, NBC and ABC all returned to soap operas in the hour following President Bush's news conference at noon, only to go back to gulf coverage within 90 minutes.
The return, however, was short-lived.
Once the air raid warning heard in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at about 1:35 p.m. proved to be a false alarm, the networks returned to entertainment programming.
The networks said they would air periodic updates on the gulf and resume full coverage "as events warranted." At about 4:30 p.m., for example, all covered a Pentagon briefing.
While executives from all three networks told television critics in Los Angeles last week that the networks would suffer huge losses by running news programs with no or few ads during the gulf crisis, officials denied yesterday that money concerns were part of their decision to resume entertainment programming.
They said the move was based on having told the story as well as it could be told up to that point. "I don't see any of the news organizations stinting on their commitment," said Eric Ober, the president of CBS News. "Our around-the-clock coverage will be dictated . . . by the flow of information and the events themselves."
In other gulf-related events:
*ABC announced that it was expanding "World News Tonight" to an hour, effective yesterday.
*NBC announced that it will continue to air news specials on the gulf war each weeknight at 11:30, indefinitely.
*CBS said that it will maintain "America Tonight" at its one-hour length indefinitely.
*Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and five other CNN staffers left Baghdad yesterday morning, arriving in Jordan by late afternoon. Correspondent Peter Arnett and producer Robert Weiner stayed on in Baghdad. Iraqi officials pulled the plug on CNN Thursday morning. The reports were resumed early yesterday, but the content was heavily censored by the Iraqis.
*Overnight ratings for Thursday, down overall just slightly from the night before, showed that most viewers watched ABC during prime time. The fewest watched CBS.