Looking back on 75 years of proud leadership

Sep 2, 2002  •  Post A Comment

As viewers, we all have shared in CBS’s proud heritage. Working at CBS, it’s impossible not to feel great pride knowing you are part of a company with such a great history.
I’m reminded of this every time I walk the halls at Television City and the Broadcast Center or when I get the chance to talk to CBS legends such as Walter Cronkite, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett, living ambassadors to the network’s rich legacy. All of us at CBS now are the heirs of this history, and we are humbled by its stewardship.
CBS through the years has carved indelible memories in so many lives-unifying us, entertaining us, informing us. … After all, when you think of the moment we learned that JFK had died, you see a saddened Walter Cronkite removing his glasses.
So many viewers still remember those nights sitting in front of the TV set with their family, watching Lucy stuff chocolate into her mouth, Gleason shouting “One of these days, Alice…,” Dick Van Dyke tripping over the ottoman and Archie telling Edith to “Stifle it.” Or Ed Sullivan introducing the Beatles, John-Boy’s “good night” as the lights clicked off on Walton’s Mountain, Rod Serling inviting us on a journey into the unknown or CBS Sports’ broadcast of the very first Super Bowl in 1967.
There’s a special pride at all levels of CBS because we are the caretakers of something that’s more than a business. This Company has always been about something … broadcasting.
It was about broadcasting when William S. Paley got the idea 75 years ago to link 16 independent radio stations and offer programming to the broadest possible audience over the Columbia Broadcasting System. It was about broadcasting in 1948, when the CBS Television Network linked five stations together to provide news, entertainment, special events and sports-this time with pictures.
And it has been about broadcasting ever since. For 75 years CBS has set out to entertain and inform the widest possible audience. From news veterans such as Edward R. Murrow and Dan Rather and the correspondents of “60 Minutes” to groundbreaking dramas such as “Dallas” and “CSI” to classic family fare such as “Gunsmoke” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and comedies such as “All in the Family” and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” CBS has provided viewing experiences that families, friends and the entire country have enjoyed together.
Throughout that time, CBS has brought viewers the best in television movies such as “Helter Skelter” and “Sarah Plain and Tall,” long-running daytime dramas such as “Guiding Light” and “The Young and the Restless” and popular game shows such as “The Price Is Right.” And CBS Sports has captured some of the greatest moments in sports history, from Super Bowls and the Masters to NCAA Basketball and U.S. Open Tennis Championships.
Our past achievements have left big shoes to fill, but we continue to carry that tradition through our current offerings. Shows such as “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The King of Queens” follow in the tradition of CBS classics “All in the Family” and “The Honeymooners.” And David Letterman continues to set the standard for variety television, much as Ed Sullivan did before him.

While we honor our past with quality programming in the present, we are also forging new territory and breaking new ground, advancing the medium as we know it. Shows such as “CSI” are taking the great procedural dramas of yesterday to a new level, combining great storytelling with the highest-caliber acting and production qualities. And nonscripted shows such as “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” have introduced a bold new form of programming.
I often go back to the literal definition of broadcasting-casting your program over the broadest possible audience-because it is not only our legacy as a top television network but our responsibility. Today CBS’s prime-time lineup reaches its vast audience because of diverse entertainment programming and bold scheduling that offers something to everyone, not just martini-sipping city dwellers with disposable income, although we like them too.
CBS has been successful in attracting an audience that’s getting younger and more upscale, but we have not abandoned our roots. Our schedule today offers a diversity of programming that appeals to viewers on all levels in every sector of the country and society.
While our commitment remains the same, the landscape surrounding network television has changed drastically. There are now hundreds of cable channels, millions of Internet sites and upstart networks all clamoring for a piece of the pie. Broadcasters are also faced with a dizzying array of new technologies that test our ability to continue to offer free over-the-air programming.
To fend off these challenges, the onus is clearly on CBS and all networks to deliver the kind of programming audiences will watch in masses and to be the place where Blue Chip advertisers turn to market their products. And in almost every case we are succeeding.
Nearly 40 million viewers watched CBS’s presentation of the “9/11” documentary last March. More than 75 million watched the Super Bowl. Millions of viewers continue to flock to the broadcast networks for events such as the Grammys and the Emmys and sports programming such as the NFL and PGA tournaments. On an average day 37 million Americans get their world news from the major networks.
No other medium delivers the amount of viewers that network television can-and does-day after day. It remains the most powerful medium in our society today, helping unite and inform us in times of crisis and entertain and enlighten us in times of prosperity.
The executives before me-William S. Paley, Frank Stanton, Fred Silverman and Howard Stringer, among many others-understood the power, impact and responsibility that come with broadcasting, and so do Viacom leaders Sumner Redstone and Mel Karmazin and all of us at CBS. The landscape may have changed since we first signed on 75 years ago, but our attitude hasn’t. Our predecessors left us a sterling legacy with many riches and we are determined to provide the next era of great television programming.
That’s been the enduring spirit at CBS for the last 75 years, and that’s how it should be for the next 75.
Leslie Moonves is president and CEO of CBS.