April 13, 2004 01:00 PM

Because of President Bush’s impromptu prime-time press conference — scheduled to air live Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. — the evening’s highly anticipated edition of “American Idol” is being preempted, FOX has announced.

Bush’s address, the third of his presidency, will focus on the escalation of the war in Iraq and the 9/11 commission hearings. It would have begun halfway through the talent hunt’s hour, so rather than interrupt and leave contestants standing around to await judge Simon Cowell’s criticism, the network is shifting Tuesday’s “Idol” episode to Wednesday night at 8 p.m.

This week’s theme (last week’s was Elton John songs) will be songs from movies, with “Kill Bill” director Quentin Tarantino dropping in as a guest judge. FOX said that the installment would still be taped on Tuesday, as was originally planned.

The president’s address is expected to run an hour. Before and after it, FOX will rerun two episodes of “That ’70s Show.”

At the moment, the Tuesday-night edition of “Idol” is the highest-rated show on the air, according to Nielsen Media Research. In its first 11 weeks this season, it has averaged nearly 27 million viewers.

As noted by Tuesday’s Washington Post, the president has been extremely savvy in scheduling his very rare TV speeches. Last year, his “Mission Accomplished” address — to declare the end of major combat operations in Iraq — was delivered on the first Thursday of the May sweeps, bumping the No. 1-rated “CSI” on CBS and the Top 10 “must-see” favorite “Will & Grace” on NBC.

As for this Wednesday’s edition of “Idol,” which was to reveal the results of Tuesday’s competition, that show will now move to Thursday at 8 and be expanded to an hour — so it can compete head-on with CBS’s “Survivor: All-Stars” and two “Friends” repeats on NBC.

ABC, CBS and NBC have also announced plans to cover the president’s address live, as have PBS, the FOX News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.

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