CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves said Tuesday that he is “hopeful” but “not terribly optimistic” about the resumption of talks today between the striking writers and the networks and studios, but he is confident that CBS is prepared to mount a full schedule for midseason, partly by broadcasting some series from sister pay-cable operation Showtime.
Mr. Moonves, speaking at UBS’ 35th Annual Global Media & Communications Conference in New York City, said after the speech that “Dexter,” Showtime’s sophomore drama about a serial killer of serial killers, is likely to be the first Showtime series CBS tries because it would work well with the network’s popular dark crime procedurals.
That CBS could consider such Showtime series as “Dexter,” “Weeds” and “Brotherhood” is an indication that, creatively, it is emerging from HBO’s shadow, Mr. Moonves said. With more than 1 million new subscribers in the last year, the premium channel “just had its best year ever financially,” he said.
He also said “Californication,” the Showtime comedy starring David Duchovny as a randy writer, just fetched a record $800,000 per half-hour in foreign syndication.
As for the digital platforms and products that are at the heart of the standoff between the Writers Guild of America and the studios and networks that produce and distribute mass-market entertainment, “the future looks very bright” but “that day is not here,” Mr. Moonves said. “We want to share our that revenue with our content creators—and we think the writers are very important to us, as are the actors, the directors and the producers, and without them we wouldn’t have our content—at the same time, we are trying to figure out what the world of new media will be and hopefully we can come to some resolution with them that they will share in the pie. Right now we don’t know what that pie is, and there’s been a lot of rhetoric from both sides and as is normal with labor negotiations it hasn’t gone exactly smoothly. There are some personality disputes between the different sides.”
Mr. Moonves said he thinks “it’s important that both sides stay in the room and discuss what’s on the table and come to a resolution. And I hope that happens.”
While CBS is in strike-mode programming, the CBS CEO said that he is not worried about the impact on the bottom line because while the ratings won’t be as high as normal, costs will be down “considerably.”
Helping his outlook is the fact that the scatter market is going for prices “north” of 35 percent that ad inventory went for during the upfronts for the 2007-08 season. However, Mr. Moonves said, plenty of scatter inventory can be made available “if the price is right.”
On other topics, the CBS executive said:
- The crowded and moneyed field of presidential candidates is proving to be good news for CBS TV stations earlier than usual as the campaigning heats up for the front-loaded primaries in the first few weeks of 2008.
- The CBS Radio division may be turning a corner and headed for black ink next year and is only one example of why he is optimistic about the future for CBS. He said he is looking for growth in just about ever segment of CBS’ empire.
- His faith in “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric continues, despite the newscast falling back in deep third place. Mr. Moonves said that CBS does not covet the wave of 60-plus men who have helped boost ABC’s “World News” into a seesaw race with “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” for first place since Charles Gibson became the anchor. “That’s not a demographic we want. I wish younger people would watch the news,” said the man who convinced Ms. Couric to leave NBC’s top-ranked “Today” show to come to CBS, and who still hopes people with check her out. “I think our product’s as good as any out there,” he said.
- The possibility of the Writers Guild of America East calling a strike of some 500 CBS News writers and other employees does not add any sense of urgency to the overall WGA strike. If there is a writers strike on the CBS News side,” Mr. Moonves said, “You won’t notice any difference.”
(An ABC News spokeswoman said that men and women 55-plus are driving the “World News” growth.)
Updated at 12:06 PM