Strong Summer for CBS, Moonves

Jul 18, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Riding high on his network’s summer ratings performance, Viacom Co-President and Co-Chief Operating Officer Leslie Moonves on Sunday pointed out that the use of reruns and familiar shows by CBS pokes holes in the idea of a 52-week programming year.

“I know a lot has been written about all these big grandiose announcements about the year-round programming and what a great strategy idea that is,” he said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “I think some of it is a little self-serving. One network has baseball in the middle, one network has the Olympics and therefore the whole season should change because they have the Olympics.

“We have heard that creating more original programming is a whole new way of doing business. We have seen no evidence to back up the rhetoric.”

Mr. Moonves said that although the network’s approach to the summer didn’t get as many headlines as did some of his competitors’ plans, the Nielsen Media Research numbers have gone CBS’s way.

“Our strategy has been to air repeats of our quality shows, and to add to that a couple of our established reality success stories,” Mr. Moonves told reporters. “We have eight of the top 10 shows this summer in viewers, and yes, adults 18 to 49. So if I ever hear another word about the geezer network, I’m coming after you. And that means (NBC Universal Television Group President) Jeff Zucker too.”

But that doesn’t mean CBS is merely repeating shows based on their ratings during the year.

“Obviously comedies do better than dramas; they always have,” Mr. Moonves said of reruns. “And clearly procedural dramas work much better than the soap opera type of dramas that have continuing story lines. And people forget with three hours of ‘Big Brother,’ an hour of ‘Amazing Race,’ the newsmagazines, specials here and there, almost one-third of our schedule is new stuff.”

There were plenty of questions from reporters about the firings of “CSI” series regulars George Eads and Jorja Fox over their failure to show up at work last week. Mr. Moonves said the firings came down to salaries and contracts.

“We were having discussions with their lawyers,” he said. “There were certain veiled threats about them not showing up. It comes a point where we all have to look out for the future of the network television business.”

Mr. Moonves also said CBS offered Mr. Eads and Ms. Fox a raise as part of the current negotiations, and renegotiated higher salaries with them back in the second season. The network is looking at new actors to join the show.

There also were plenty of questions about the TV movie “The Reagans” and its strong Emmy showing with seven nominations. Originally slated to air on CBS, the movie was attacked by conservatives. Ultimately the movie was pulled from CBS’s schedule and ran on Viacom cable network Showtime.

“We had trouble putting it on because we felt it took a very strong point of view,” he said. “I don’t dispute the quality of those performances. We made the right decision. I’m very happy our corporate cousin Showtime put it on, and I’m very pleased they did get recognized for it.”

Mr. Moonves commented on the tussle between Fox and NBC over their dueling boxing reality shows.

“We’ve been taking out our popcorn and enjoying the fight going on, going back and forth. I hope they all kill each other,” he joked.

Three years ago CBS was in a similar situation with ABC, when it sued its competitor for putting on “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” claiming it was an illegal copy of “Survivor.” Mr. Moonves noted that CBS lost its case, but business is business.

“Maybe Fox picked up the boxing show truly to hurt the NBC boxing show because they didn’t want it to hurt ‘American Idol,'” he said. “This is a very tough, competitive game out there. The Marquis of Queensbury rules went out the window a long time ago.”

Mr. Moonves called the “CSI” franchise a “weapon” in the CBS arsenal. The show’s newest incarnation, “CSI: NY,” will air Wednesday nights starting this fall.

“‘CSI: NY’ is not going to beat ‘Law & Order,'” he said. “However, ‘CSI: NY’ is going to do better than we’ve done in that time period than we have in decades.”

CBS Entertainment President Nancy Tellem announced that most of the 2004-05 schedule would premiere the week of Sept. 20. “Survivor: Vanuatu” debuts a week earlier on Thursday, Sept. 16. Tuesday night’s lineup of “NCIS,” “Clubhouse” and “Judging Amy” premieres Sept. 28, but “Clubhouse” gets a special chance at bat on Sunday, Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. “Cold Case” premieres Sunday, Oct. 3, and “Dr. Phil” McGraw’s two-hour prime-time special airs Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 9 p.m.