‘Lost’ episode: Did couch potatoes really bump Obama speech?

The White House backed down on the date of Obama's State of the Union address when ‘Lost’ fans tweeted their outrage. Western civilization and American politics survived.

By , Staff writer

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    The White House wanted to delay Obama's State of the Union speech until Congress had passed healthcare reform. Fine, said 'Lost' fans, as long you don't interfere with our favorite TV show.
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The decision by the White House Friday to not preempt the season premiere of the psychedelic crash-drama “Lost” for the State of the Union address reveals the surprising power of that much ridiculed stereotype: the American couch potato.

Give ‘em a Twitter account, and the President just better back off that remote.

OBAMA BACKED DOWN!!!! Groundhog Day is OURS!!!!!!! (God Bless America),” wrote one “Lost” producer on Twitter.

Usually presidents, even this one, will steamroll regularly scheduled programming, taking over, as Obama did, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on Dec. 1 to announce his new Afghanistan policy. (To the chagrin of some.)

But Charlie Brown apparently can’t hold a candle to Jack, Sawyer and Co.

The hugely popular ABC drama involves a group of mostly good-looking plane crash survivors who travel through time via a magnetic island – or something like that. It is gripping TV, if a bit overbearing and unbelievable (a smoke monster?) It has enough mysteries (“Obama in a Dharma jumpsuit!” one fan tweeted hopefully, referencing the mysterious overlord organization that runs the island) and has managed to grip the imagination of a war-weary, economy-clobbered nation looking for relief.

(The Toronto Star headline this morning is very telling: “When it comes to country’s future, Americans would rather be Lost.”)

The State of the Union Address is usually held in January. But the White House has signaled it wants to push it back, most likely to make sure congressional Democrats have enough time to polish off a healthcare reform bill.

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But when Feb. 2 popped up as a possible date, Facebook and Twitter fan groups revolted. One group, “Americans Against the State of the Union Address on the same night as LOST,” got huge traffic, as did the Twitter hashmark #NoStateOfUnionFeb2.

Presidents like John Kennedy and Bill Clinton innately harnessed the power of television like few others, understanding that TV “changed what presidents do and how they do it … and affected how and why voters vote and for whom they cast their ballots,” according to an essay by the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Obama, too, is a made-for-TV president, his historic ascent from junior senator to White House occupant played out in countless hours of primetime news coverage. But polls tell us he’s now in hot water with much of his TV constituency. The conclusion for the White House was probably a no-brainer: Why rejigger the “Lost” universe more than it already is.

Whether a president should worry about preempting a show featuring time travel to do that inconsequential little speech called the State of the Union can be debated, but the reality cannot: Couch potatoes rule.

“I don’t foresee a scenario in which millions of people that hope to finally get some conclusion in ’Lost’ are pre-empted by the president,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs glibly said Friday, then requested with a smile that reporters attribute the quote to a “senior administration official.”

In response, ricknroll tweeted: “TV and Twitter now have more power than POTUS – Awesome!”

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