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6/03/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Spot-less Performance by 'Today’ Irks 'GMA’

In the highly lucrative morning news hours, running commercial-free would seem counter-intuitive. But that’s just what NBC’s Today did on the last Wednesday of May sweeps when Dancing With the Stars winner/Olympic speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno appeared with finalists Laila Ali and Joey Fatone on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Because ABC’s ratings were likely to spike, thanks to the popularity of Dancing, NBC figured its numbers would fall faster than Meredith Vieira on skates. Since Nielsen doesn’t record program data without national ads, NBC yanked the ads.

NBC employed the same tactic last fall when actor/filmmaker Mel Gibson sat down with Diane Sawyer on GMA to explain his drunken anti-Semitic tirade after he was pulled over.

On Friday, Today again ran without national ads for the 8 a.m. half hour during Sawyer's exclusive interview with TB patient Andrew Speaker.

The gap between morning leader Today and GMA on May 23 was 950,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic and 480,000 in total viewers.

GMA Senior Executive Producer Jim Murphy found NBC’s maneuver peculiar, to say the least. “It’s kind of odd for people to look for ways to inflate their numbers when they are going through some trying times,” he says. “They have a very long streak of winning, and I guess they’ll pay any price to protect it. But it’s kind of an unusual one. For people looking to compete on a fair playing field it feels like cheating.”

A Today spokesperson has a different take on the matter. “It’s not unusual for us to be strategic and aggressive in our programming,” the spokesperson explained, before crowing, “programming that resulted in a win every day in the May sweep.”

SpongeBob No Pants

Nickelodeon is of course best known for beloved children’s programming like SpongeBobSquarePants and The Fairly OddParents. But a company press release late last week introduced some more risque characters. E-mailed to reporters, the release stated that “Nickelodeon Announces Major New Global Venture” at the New York Marriott Marquis. The announcement was available via Webcast as well.

But due to an unfortunate technical glitch, the URL for the Webcast, http://nickannounce.com/, led to a site that featured an array of scantily dressed temptresses hawking an assortment of definitely-not-for-the-kiddies video offerings.

Fortunately for Nickelodeon, quick-thinking Nick execs realized the error almost immediately, before many journos had a chance to access the naughty site. They promised that things would get no more naughty on Nick than the title of the hit show The Naked Brothers Band.

Dunder-Heads Unite

After the success of its “A Day at The Office” event last month, Scranton, Pa.-based fans of The Office are planning a full-fledged convention dedicated to the NBC comedy. Office characters Angela (Angela Kinsey) and Kevin (Brian Baumgartner), employees at the show’s delightfully dysfunctional paper company Dunder Mifflin, were the guests of honor at a Scranton VIP breakfast, autograph signing at a local mall and rooftop party May 19; last September, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) did a meet-and-greet that was attended by some 2,500 Office-loving Scrantonians. The planners are now looking to get the entire cast to Scranton Oct. 26-28.

“If Trekkies can have their own convention,” says organizer Tim Holmes, “Office fans should have their own, too.”

A Scranton native, Holmes says the show’s producers have been receptive to his plans.

But even if no cast members make the schlep to the so-called Electric City, the wingding will nonetheless go on. “We’ll still go ahead with it,” says Holmes, “even if we just do a Halloween party where everyone dresses up as their favorite Office character.”

Perhaps Ben Silverman, the new co-chairman at NBC Universal and the executive producer of The Office, can flex some managerial muscle and lend the cast the corporate jet for the trip. We hear northeastern Pennsylvania is nice in the fall.

With Marisa Guthrie

 

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