In the Dueling Popes Derby, CBS now has the lead, breaking ahead of ABC last week in the home stretch, with only days to go before their competing bios of Pope John Paul II hit the air.
After trailing for months, CBS surged ahead on Thursday when its miniseries was screened at the Vatican for Pope Benedict XVI. That was a publicity coup in itself, but the resulting story from the Associated Press was a network publicist’s dream.
It started with the headline “Pope Watches Latest John Paul II Movie” and only got better: The story mentioned spontaneous applause during the screening but didn’t reference ABC’s rival production, Have No Fear: The Life of Pope John Paul II.
It was a late comeback for CBS, which broke out of the gate in first place last April—not long after Pope John Paul II passed away—when the network signed up a project being pitched by the European (and Vatican-connected) producers of a successful CBS miniseries on the life of Jesus in 2000.
But then, as B&C reported in the June 6 issue, ABC enlisted a splinter group from the Jesus production and was rushing its own project into production—and, unlike CBS, they had a script ready to go.
That put ABC ahead of CBS, as far as we were concerned. But this fall, CBS made a bid for the lead when it announced that its four-hour Pope John Paul II would air on two nights, Dec. 4 and 7. Clearly, ABC had fallen behind.
But no! The network battled back, galloping ahead with its own air date: Dec. 1. We thought that settled it, but CBS’ late move in Rome may bring home the roses.
In the event of a photo finish, we’ll let the stewards at Nielsen Media Research pick the winner.