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NBC to air baseball instead of presidential debate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - NBC, which in August bid for the exclusive right to host a presidential debate, said Friday it will broadcast a baseball game instead of the first showdown between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush.

The network said it will show a divisional playoff game on the evening of Oct. 3, instead of a debate organized by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.

And if it takes more than five games to determine the American League baseball champions, NBC will also preempt coverage of the final debate, scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 17, in St. Louis in favor of baseball.

"We have a contract with major-league baseball. The commission was informed well in advance of their selecting the debate dates," said NBC spokeswoman Barbara Levin. "If we didn't have the baseball conflict we would be televising it."

ABC and CBS plan live coverage of the debates, as do public television stations and several news cable networks, including MSNBC, the NBC network's affiliate.

With polls showing a close race between Bush and Gore, each side has a lot riding on the debate schedule completed last week.

The campaigns agreed to accept a plan drawn up by the commission. Earlier Bush proposed taking part in only one formal commission debate and two joint appearances on interview shows, one of them to be hosted by NBC's Tim Russert.

Janet Brown, director of the debate commission, said a clutter of sporting and special events made it impossible to schedule the debates without conflict.

"Ideally, you could find four dates free of any conflicts. It rarely works out that way," Brown said.

Her group started planning in February 1999, but the networks had already committed to air the 2000 Olympics and a variety of football and baseball games.

The commission's work was further complicated by network concerns that the debates would interfere with some of their most profitable programming.

Sources close to the negotiations said NBC wanted one of the debates moved because it would interfere with the planned season premiere of its hit comedy show "Frasier." CBS voiced concern that another would conflict with the "Country Music Awards."

"I am confident ... that the public has good access," said Brown, though she voiced concern that viewers would have to choose between politics and baseball.

NBC is owned by General Electric Co.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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Friday, September 22, 2000


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