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CBS, Doubleday scrap over kidnapping story

October 22, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Doubleday and CBS are trading sharp words over CBS' surprise Saturday broadcast of a special on the making of its upcoming movie about the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping, which upset the publisher's carefully crafted media plan to launch a book on the topic.

Both CBS and Doubleday have rights to a portion of the Smart story, CBS for its Nov. 9 movie "The Elizabeth Smart Story" and Doubleday for a book on the ordeal, to be published Tuesday, from the Utah teen's parents, Ed and Lois Smart.

At issue is which network would get the first interview with the Smarts. Doubleday, seeking the most-watched TV shows in order to sell the most books, promised the coveted interview to NBC's Katie Couric for a special on Friday and excerpts on the "Today" show. But that upset CBS, which wanted the interview for itself, for the high ratings and bragging rights it would bring to the news division and also to ensure that its movie got prominently promoted. So CBS, which had interviewed the couple for the movie's electronic press kit, quickly churned out a special for Saturday, beating the NBC interview by a week.

"Obviously they wanted us to promote on CBS, but we have to do what's best for the book," said Doubleday spokeswoman Suzanne Herz, adding that "movies and books are two different entities," which require two different promotion strategies. When CBS wouldn't tell Ed Smart the date that the program would air, he walked out of the interview, Herz said. She called the situation "extremely unfortunate," noting, "I am disappointed that we had a verbal agreement that was ignored and broken by CBS." She said the two agreed CBS wouldn't promote the movie before the week of Nov. 3.

But CBS said there was no such agreement. A CBS executive familiar with the situation said that after the two media companies had been working together on a joint public relations strategy, Doubleday, without any consultation, gave the interview to NBC. "We are sorry that the Smarts are caught between two media companies that are both working hard to make their respective projects successful. CBS did not make any false promises about when the special would air," the network said.

"It's just gotten out of hand at this point," said Herz. "They apparently believe one thing and we have a completely different opinion of the situation so it's becoming a little bit of a circus."

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