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NBC Interrupts Soap Opera for Hart Coverage

May 06, 1987|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — While CBS and ABC stayed with soap operas and then the hearings on the Iran- contra affair, NBC scored something of a coup Tuesday with live coverage of Gary Hart's denial of another affair-- with actress-model Donna Rice.

NBC broke into its regular daytime schedule at about 1:50 p.m. (EDT)--interrupting the "Days of Our Lives" soap opera on the East Coast and the game show "Scrabble" on the West Coast--to air live coverage of the Democratic presidential hopeful's prepared speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Assn. convention here. Then, at 2 p.m., it joined the other two networks in providing live coverage of the congressional committee beginning its Iran- contra hearings with testimony from retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord.

But a half hour later, NBC again cut to Hart here for 20 minutes as he replied to questions from newspaper executives about his relationship with Rice. Then NBC rejoined the two other networks in covering the Washington hearings.

The live coverage of two stories had been planned, NBC News President Larry Grossman explained later, because the Hart matter--first raised in Sunday's editions of the Miami Herald--also was a major story. NBC had reported on it and "it's only appropriate to give him his opportunity to respond," he said.

Grossman said that he didn't know why CBS and ABC didn't do as NBC did, but "all I know is that we couldn't be happier at the way we're making it work."

CBS and ABC officials said their networks had planned all along to stay with Secord's testimony while taping key elements of Hart's speech and his later responses to questions for broadcast on their evening newscasts.

"It was an editorial decision," an ABC News spokesman said. A CBS News spokeswoman offered the same explanation, asserting that "it would have been confusing" to viewers to go from Hart's speech to the hearings and then back to Hart.

Cable News Network, while it broadcast Hart's speech live, joined the networks for opening-day coverage of the Iran- contra hearings, and did not cut to Hart's question-and-answer session, deciding to tape that for subsequent broadcast.

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