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'Daniel' Tempts Few Sponsors

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NEW YORK NBC aired just 23 commercials spanning 12.5 minutes during last Friday's two-hour premiere of its controversial new series Book of Daniel.

That's just over six minutes of ads per hour, or about half the usual load of commercials for network prime time, according to network and agency sources.

The program, about a priest who's addicted to prescription drugs and his dysfunctional family that includes an alcoholic wife, gay son and a brother who embezzles church funds, has drawn criticism from conservative Christians.

The priest, played by Aidan Quinn, also has regular conversations with Jesus Christ about managing life's little crises. The controversy prompted five NBC affiliate stations, mainly in Southern states, to preempt the show.

The network filled the rest of the time that would normally go to commercials with promotional spots for its own programs, including several promo blocks that ran two minutes or longer promoting multiple shows. The comedies My Name Is Earl and The Office, around which NBC is trying to create a new "Must See" Thursday night lineup, were among the programs heavily promoted, along with the upcoming Golden Globe Awards telecast and Winter Olympics coverage.

Among the commercials that aired was a 90-second "The Making of" King Kong from Universal Pictures, which is co-owned with NBC. The rest of the commercials were standard 30-second units dominated by the movie category.

An NBC representative said the network had anticipated a shortfall in ads, given the controversial nature of the program. "Advertisers tend to take a wait-and-see attitude" with such shows, the rep said, who indicated advertisers might hop on board if the program performs well in the ratings. If the numbers are good, sponsors tend to advertise despite the controversy, the rep said.

Daniel's premiere was less than spectacular, however, placing a close third in the ratings among adults 18-49 behind both CBS and ABC.