Arnold's campaign shakes up TV comedy. The election pre-empts season premieres, and late-night hosts are nixing gags over equal-time fears

By Gary Susman
Updated August 26, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

California Democrats aren’t the only ones grumbling over Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial candidacy. His campaign is indirectly responsible for headaches at the networks. According to Reuters, ABC has decided to move up some of its season premieres to avoid conflicts with California’s Oct. 7 election, which may pre-empt programming nationwide. The network said it was shifting the debuts of ”Less Than Perfect” and new sitcom ”I’m With Her” from Sept. 30 to Sept. 23 so that each will establish a foothold of two airings before Oct. 7.

Also scrambling to get out of Arnold’s way are the late-night comics, who are discovering that the network lawyers won’t let them air videotaped clips or sketches about Schwarzenegger, lest they run afoul of equal-time rules. ”It’s a crazy situation,” a CBS spokesman told the Washington Post, in reference to a bit that Craig Kilborn had to scrap last Wednesday. ”No network wants to put its affiliates or owned stations in a position where they get hit with 134 demands for equal time.” The same night, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel said of Schwarzenegger: ”He’s saying so many hilariously stupid things but we are not allowed to show them, we can’t air the voice or image of any of the candidates because of the equal-time laws. It’s an idiotic rule and it’s killing me personally. Today he said, and I quote: ‘The people — you can’t put wood over their eyes.”’ There are no such regulations on the Web, however, and CBS has posted the banned Kilborn sketch on the ”Late Late Show”’s website.