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.”