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Martha jail movie on hold
CBS pulls Martha Stewart made-for-TV movie from May sweeps schedule.
April 20, 2005: 1:03 PM EDT
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Television viewers hungry for the inside scoop on Martha Stewart's recent prison stay will have to wait.

A CBS spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the network has delayed a made-for-TV movie about Stewart's five-month turn at a minimum-security prison in West Virginia.

The CBS move comes as networks shuffle their lineups ahead of next month's crucial sweeps period and CBS battles Fox to finish first-place among young adults. The 2004-05 television season officially ends next month.

In place of "Martha: Behind Bars" on May 25, CBS will air another insider tale: "Amber Frey: Witness for the Prosecution," a story about the Scott Peterson murder trial and the former paramour who helped convict Peterson of murdering wife Laci. Peterson has been sentenced to death.

"Amber Frey" will now go up against the season finales of "American Idol" on Fox and "Lost" on ABC. CBS and Fox are locked in a tight race for the No. 1 ratings spot among 18- to 49-year-old viewers, the demographic that draws advertisers at top prices.

The Martha movie, starring Cybill Shepherd, has not been rescheduled but a CBS spokesman said the network is committed to airing it.

One industry analyst speculated that Viacom-owned CBS will broadcast the movie this fall in an attempt to benefit from an infusion of Stewart entertainment starting later this year.

Stewart, who is now serving five-months under house arrest following a criminal conviction a year ago, is due to appear in two television shows next season. One is a daily syndicated talk show and the other is a possible spin-off of the popular reality show "The Apprentice."

On top of that, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (Research), the lifestyle media and merchandising company founded by Stewart, announced this week plans to launch a 24-hour-a-day channel on Sirius Satellite Radio (Research) sometime later this year. Stewart is slated to be a regular on Martha Stewart Living Radio.

"It's really going to be total Martha Stewart saturation come this fall," Ed Martin, an industry analyst and programming editor of MediaVillage.com, told CNN/Money. "It would very likely be a much more effective time for CBS to run this movie."

Martin suggested at least one other possible motive: CBS announced plans for the behind-the-bars look at Stewart's prison life -- its second unauthorized drama about the lifestyle celebrity -- in March. Throwing together a good movie in such a narrow time frame would have been difficult, Martin said.

"I first thought a month ago 'How in the world are they going to put a TV movie together in a month's time that isn't a total embarrassment?'" continued Martin.

CBS programming executives may have concluded it couldn't be done.

"CBS is doing really well and looking like an extremely classy network,"said Martin. "It doesn't want to thoroughly humiliate itself."

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