Olympian `Survivor’ strategy

May 21, 2001  •  Post A Comment

CBS hopes to outplay, outlast and outwit NBC by surprising it with a celebrity edition of “Survivor” to air opposite the Winter Olympics.
Earlier this month, CBS Television President and CEO Leslie Moonves told “Access Hollywood,” “We’re thinking of doing a celebrity version. Ray Romano wants to do it. Kate Hudson stood on line for an hour at the CBS audition for the third `Survivor.’ And [basketball star] Kobe Bryant has expressed an interest.”
Last week, Mr. Moonves said a celebrity “Survivor” was still in the works, but he declined to say more about when the show would air.
If CBS can get the logistical problems solved in time, a celebrity “Survivor” would be broadcast, at least partially, during the February sweeps opposite the Winter Olympics on NBC, according to sources familiar with “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett.
A CBS spokesman said “Survivor Africa” and a fourth “Survivor” are priorities right now, not a celebrity “Survivor.” He added that he had not heard of any plans for a celebrity “Survivor” running opposite the Olympics.
“Survivor Africa” will debut in early October, Mr. Moonves said last week, and “Survivor 4” will premiere in March. In between the airing of the two shows, CBS “may have a surprise,” Mr. Moonves said, not elaborating. The Olympics on NBC, originating from Salt Lake City, air from Feb. 8-24.
“I haven’t heard anything about it yet, but Les is a very aggressive and competitive programmer, so it wouldn’t surprise me,” said one top media-buying executive who has had a client in the first two “Survivors.” “I’d imagine a pricing for a celebrity `Survivor’ would be aggressive as well.”
Another media buyer, who has not had a client in either of the first two arcs, was skeptical. “This is going to be an Olympics coming from here in the U.S. Yes, it’s not as big as the Summer Olympics, but I don’t think you’d want to waste a property as big as a `Survivor,’ or a celebrity `Survivor,’ against it. Wouldn’t you get higher ratings, and thus more revenue, if you didn’t run it against the Olympics?”
Mr. Moonves turned a lot of heads earlier this year by scheduling “Survivor: The Australian Outback” and rookie drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” on Thursdays opposite NBC’s “Must-See” powerhouse lineup that had generally been unchallenged in recent years.
The move proved successful for both CBS shows, which return to that night next season. Furthermore, the success of the shows in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic finally gives movie companies, to whom Thursday night advertising is crucial, a viable alternative to NBC (though The WB and UPN have been somewhat successful in attracting that money for their audience of targeted young people).
“Les is a gambler, but a calculated one,” said a third buyer. “Why not go after the Olympics with something strong? Why let NBC clean up with all that revenue in the first quarter? And as a buyer, I always love a good alternative in the marketplace.”
While no one at CBS is talking about when a celebrity “Survivor” might be filmed or aired, Mr. Moonves had fun talking about what such a show would be like during CBS’s upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall in New York on May 16. He joked that a Motel 6 in Poughkeepsie would be a good setting for celebrity “Survivor” and a possible immunity challenge during such a show would be “the big one: Have a conversation about someone else.”