Hearings pre-empt children's programs But sports return by late afternoon THOMAS HEARINGS

October 13, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Instead of Hammerman and the Ninja Turtles, many viewers found anchormen Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw when they turned on their televisions yesterday morning.

TV viewing habits were disrupted yesterday in millions of homes when broadcasters pre-empted Saturday morning children's programming to resume full-court-press coverage of the confirmation hearings of Judge Clarence Thomas. But things returned to a more normal state of video affairs by mid-afternoon when ABC, NBC and CBS abandoned coverage of Judge Thomas' testimony for college football and professional baseball.

Viewers were offered gavel-to-gavel coverage throughout the day on PBS and cable channels CNN and C-SPAN. MPT (Channels 22 and 67) and WETA-TV (Channel 26) carried the PBS coverage locally.

The networks brought back their anchors, cameras and first-string correspondents yesterday after a full day of coverage on Friday that extended into prime-time everywhere except on CBS, which bailed out because of its billion-dollar contract to cover major league baseball. Mr. Brokaw, Mr. Jennings and Mr. Rather each began yesterday's coverage by warning viewers that the hearings could contain "graphic material," which some "might find offensive."

The warning was issued, a spokesman for CBS said, because questions were expected in connection with the sexually explicit testimony given on Friday by University of Oklahoma law professor Anita F. Hill.

In that testimony, Ms. Hill described in graphic detail the sexual harassing statements she alleges that Judge Thomas made to her. The alleged remarks are beyond the pale of sexual subject matter regularly discussed anywhere on broadcast TV, let alone during Saturday morning children's programming.

Representatives of local stations said yesterday that they could not assess the extent of viewer approval or dissatisfaction over the programming since such calls are not regularly logged on weekends.

But the local broadcasters -- WMAR-TV (Channel 2), WBAL-TV (Channel 11) and WJZ-TV (Channel 13) -- did not have much choice, anyway, in what they would air.

They could either carry what the networks offered or substitute their own local programming. Since they normally carry network programming during the day on Saturdays, they did not have much backup local programming.

So Channel 2 stayed with NBC as it aired hearings and then went to the Notre Dame football game at 1:30 p.m. Channel 13 stayed with ABC as it carried the hearings and then switched to the Penn State game, which was joined in progress at 2:30 p.m. Channel 11 stayed with CBS, which had the hearings and then switched to Game 3 of the National League championship playoff series at 3 o'clock.

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