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NBCU Ready for Thompson White House Run

If Fred Thompson decides to end months of speculation and enter the 2008 presidential contest, NBC Universal will be ready.

Thompson, of course, is the former Tennessee senator who plays D.A. Arthur Branch on NBCU's Law & Order. Should he enter the race, his appearances on syndicated episodes of L&O would trigger FCC rules requiring stations to provide equal non-news airtime to all qualified candidates.

Whereas Ronald Reagan's acting career presented little problem during his campaigns (General Electric Theater had long since gone off the air), L&O is stripped on weekdays and airs weekends as well.

According to a source familiar with Thompson's regular L&O appearances, NBCU would have to edit or drop from rotation a quarter—some 100—of the episodes currently in syndication. (Thompson also appears occasionally on L&O spinoffs Special Victims Unit, currently in syndication, and Criminal Intent, which debuts in syndication this fall.)

"We have been anticipating Mr. Thompson's decision and have taken appropriate steps consistent with FCC regulations," says an NBCU spokesman, declining to comment on whether those steps involved editing or pulling entire episodes.

The equal-time rule would also apply to the show's near-ubiquity on cable networks like NBCU's Bravo and USA. And there's Thompson's many appearances in such films as Die Hard 2 and Aces: Iron Eagles III. Indeed, his most recent film role, in HBO's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, might be particularly problematic: President Ulysses S. Grant.

Dog Paddler

When the Fox Sports brain trust decided to station Arizona Diamondbacks star and part-time reporter Eric Byrnes and his dog, Bruin, in a kayak in the San Francisco Bay during last Tuesday's All-Star Game, they knew there might be some risks.

So as not to upset the excitable animal-rights crowd, Fox went so far as to outfit the boxer (as in canine, not pugilist) with a flotation vest. But perhaps network brass should have been more worried about Byrnes: Just minutes before going on-air, he told executives he'd never been in a kayak.

"Yeah, I'd have been more comfortable on a surf board," Byrnes said. "That's for sure."

As it turned out, man and dog didn't see much action—homerun balls or otherwise—until Bruin decided to take what surely will be the most-viewed televised swim until the Beijing Olympics next summer.

Announcer Joe Buck probably spoke for every sweating News Corp. executive when he told Byrnes to get his pup out of the water, joking, "We've got folks that are lining up outside the door to complain."

When Byrnes and Bruin returned to the broadcast compound beneath the stadium, they were greeted like royalty by excited—and relieved—network brass.

"The most famous dog in America!" clamored Fox Sports chief David Hill.

Showing the quick wit that got him on air, Byrnes shrugged off the honor: "Yeah, until Westminster."

On and On…

A&E wasted no time in moving to capitalize on last month's demise of The Sopranos.

Last week, the cable network, which has run syndicated episodes of the HBO hit since January, launched a TV spot featuring Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," the song used in the show's controversial final moments.

"If you miss watching The Sopranos, here are two words of advice," the ad says before going into a mash-up of clips from the show in which characters utter the words "don't" and "stop." (A similar radio spot began airing earlier this month.)

Creating a promo that riffed on the finale was a no-brainer, says A&E Senior VP of Marketing Guy Slattery: "Everyone was talking about it in the days afterwards."

Although Slattery counts himself "in the I-thought-it-was-brilliant camp," he understands that many Sopranos fans were displeased with the abrupt cut-to-black that ended the show: "I think the reason people were upset with it was, it didn't give them resolution. But it created a sort of instant nostalgia for The Sopranos, which we can really tap into."

As for the surge of nostalgia for Journey's 1981 hit, it goes on and on and on…

With John Eggerton and Ben Grossman

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