Candidates face stiff opposition in Redskins, other TV networks

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

In this corner, the Democrats. And in this corner . . . the Redskins.

Who do you think will win?

They weren't thinking about sports when the kickoff for the presidential debate season was scheduled for 6:30 tonight on NBC (WMAR-TV, Channel 2 in Baltimore).

But football -- specifically the Washington Redskins and the way CBS uses late Sunday games as a lead-in to boost ratings for its prime-time shows -- could be the biggest factor determining how many voters tune in to see six Democratic candidates spar on television.

The bad news for NBC and the Democrats is that CBS (WBAL-TV, Channel 11 locally) has the Redskins playing the New York Giants starting at 4 p.m. and scheduled to run until 7 p.m.

For the first half-hour anyway, NBC can scratch much of the nation's largest TV market as well as the most politically interested one -- New York and Washington, respectively. When the Redskins play, two out of every three TV sets in the District of Columbia are often tuned to the game. The numbers are as large in parts of Maryland and Virginia. The ratings in New York are similarly high for the Giants.

And more bad news: The late game on CBS almost never ends at 7. That's because the network feels that if the game runs late and "60 Minutes," one of the highest-rated shows, starts late, it can throw viewers off the hour and half-hour schedule of other channels all night. All of which means even more viewers for CBS, and fewer for NBC and its lineup of host Tom Brokaw and the six Democratic candidates.

Just in case that competition isn't tough enough, the Fox network stations in Washington and New York are offering episodes of two of the highest-rated shows in syndication: "Star Trek" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Call that matchup the Democrats vs. the Enterprise.

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