Moonves: No Comment on Freston Firing

Sep 12, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Leslie Moonves, the usually garrulous CBS Corp. President and CEO, was tight-lipped Tuesday at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society’s 2006-07 kickoff luncheon in Beverly Hills when PBS talk show host and the luncheon’s moderator Charlie Rose asked him a question about former Viacom President and CEO Tom Freston.

Mr. Moonves declined to discuss Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone’s surprise move last week to fire Mr. Freston. “I don’t want to get myself in trouble with anybody,” he said.

Mr. Redstone broke up Viacom into two parts nine months ago, with Mr. Freston’s group, dominated by the MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures, considered the fast-growth company by Wall Street, and Mr. Moonves’ CBS Corp., with the CBS radio and TV networks as its keystone, considered a mature, slow-growth company.

Mr. Rose, the luncheon’s moderator, pointed out that CBS stock is up 11 percent since the Viacom split. “11.7 percent,” Mr. Moonves corrected to laughs, noting that he and his team “were fine with” being labeled slow-growth and then exceeding investors’ expectations.

Noting that his first love is still development and programming TV shows, Mr. Moonves said becoming CEO of a publicly traded company has been a change for him, particularly serving the interests of investors and meeting quarterly expectations.

“The stock market is irrational,” he said. “It seems to be ridiculous.”

ABC’s decision to run the controversial miniseries “The Path to 9/11” was a “tough call,” Mr. Moonves said, noting that “networks have to be very, very careful, especially with something as sensitive as 9/11.”

CBS’s decision to not run the miniseries “The Reagans” in 2003 after receiving criticism that the story was not accurate is not an “apples to apples” comparison, Mr. Moonves said, but in terms of the two networks handling the situation, “we made one call, they made another.”

Despite the impact of cable and the Internet, “when you’re dealing with a fragmented world, (broadcast networks) are still the most important” platforms for advertisers, he said.

“At some point, perhaps,” digital platforms will do more than augment the broadcast model, Mr. Moonves said, but that will mean CBS “will get revenue from another place.”

He pointed out that last year CBS offered the NCAA men’s basketball tournament via subscription broadband and got $250,000. This year CBS offered it on an ad-supported basis and made $4.5 million.

“Advertiser-based Internet is better than VOD,” he said. “We’re going to get paid no matter where you get it from.”

What new “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric brings to the network’s flagship news program is “accessibility,” Mr. Moonves said. “The time of the voice-of-God anchor is over,” he said.

Mr. Moonves called the current season “a golden age” in terms of television dramas.

When Mr. Rose asked why that was, Mr. Moonves said “If I knew the answer I’d be very rich—actually, I am very rich.”