Bigger than Barack: Boyle forces President to move speech

TV network prioritised reality show over White House news conference

David Usborne
Wednesday 22 July 2009 00:00

Whatever happens next to Scotland's ballad-belting Susan Boyle, at least she can say this about herself: when it came to a television scheduling showdown against the most popular leader of the free world in recent memory, she won fair and square. No second-place fade-outs for the Britain's Got Talent sensation this time.

The unlikely collision of spinster-songstress and commander-in-chief came about when the White House determined it was time for Barack Obama to hold his fourth prime-time news conference since coming to office. His healthcare reform push is looking a bit peaky and a direct appeal to the people was warranted.

Normally, the four broadcast networks in America bow to such requests without much fuss, particularly in the summer months when their schedules are all re-runs and reality shows. But not this time. Fox, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, instantly refused to air the conference. Of course, it did that last time too. But signs that relations between the broadcasters and the Obama administration are fraying further became more obvious when NBC also balked.

Startled by the resistance, which comes at a time when Mr Obama's own ratings are starting to slide, the White House blinked and agreed to shift the conference one hour forward to 8pm, even though it meant the President would be going on air when Californian voters were still commuting home.

The problem for NBC was that the 9pm was the one it had saved for America's Got Talent, which follows the same format as its British equivalent. And more importantly, this episode was to feature an exclusive interview with Boyle. She was the network's secret weapon to compete with the reality shows on the competing channels, including the likes of So You Think You Can Dance and I Survived a Japanese Game Show.

No one at the White House has any intention of admitting that Mr Obama saw Boyle in his headlights and swerved. "In speaking with various media outlets, we found that rescheduling for one hour earlier would help us to arrange for as many Americans as possible to hear directly from the President at the press conference," one official said, and that was the closest anyone got to blaming the new singing star for the time change.

Boyle may be a top property for NBC this summer, if only because of all the speculation about her state of mind in the wake of her second-place disappointment in the final of Britain's Got Talent. She vanished from the airwaves and cancelled several commitments that had been made when she appeared to be on track to win.

Small segments of the interview already aired on the NBC's breakfast show reveal a mildly made-over Boyle, with a hair-do that appears considerably less unruly than its predecessor. She admits to the interviewer that she "brushes up quite well".

She also expounds on the shock to the system that her sudden fame this spring had brought. "It's a lot like a giant demolition ball," Boyle, 48, reflects. "The impact – like a demolition ball. And anyone who has that kind of impact finds it really hard to get a head around it.

"I've got to be honest here. I guess I had to get my head around it, but through the guidance of a great team – and they are very good – I was able to see that in perspective and really turn that around a little."

For the rest of what she says, America must wait until this evening. But evidently the suits at NBC are gambling that it will be more interesting than what Mr Obama has to say about doctors, hospitals and the medical insurance industry. It may be time for a new presidential hairstyle.

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