All four of the major American broadcast networks decided not to air US president Barack Obama’s speech announcing a major shift in immigration policy. It was a striking—and, to many people, confounding—choice, due to the magnitude of the news and because the networks have generally aired similar speeches live.
To put the decision in perspective, here’s what the networks decided was too important to preempt:
- NBC: A midseason episode of The Biggest Loser in which the reality show’s contestants were challenged to collectively lose 50 pounds to avoid having to send someone home.
- CBS: The Big Bang Theory, a half-hour comedy that’s frequently the most popular show on television, bid farewell to Sheldon Cooper’s YouTube show.
- ABC: Grey’s Anatomy, the medical drama now in its 11th season, featured such plot twists as “a routine procedure leads to something unexpected.”
- Fox: On the crime comedy Bones, a crossword puzzle master was found dead.
Ratings on these networks have been falling for years, leading executives to make increasingly conservative decisions. They have doubled down on tired but surefire hit shows and resorted to gimmicks like live musicals. That’s the context in which the networks chose not to air the speech—which, in fairness, could be seen on free over-the-air networks like PBS and Univision (in Spanish), as well as cable TV networks and the internet. Some local networks in parts of the country with large Hispanic populations also chose to air it in spite of their parent network’s decision.