Props to Moonves and CBS
By J. Max Robins -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/14/2004 7:00:00 PM
We're still recovering from the B&C Hall of Fame soiree at the Waldorf-Astoria. And through the haze of a wonderful night, I keep coming back to the remarks of one of this year's honorees, Les Moonves. Showman supreme, the Viacom co-president and CBS chairman was his usual self: off the cuff and direct.
“I remember when the magazine was called Broadcasting,” he said. “Then it was Broadcasting & Cable. Now it's B&C. I just hope 10 years from now, it's not called C.”
Don't fret, Les—especially if you keep doing what you're doing.
In the heat of November sweeps, as B&C Contributing Editor Brian Lowry notes [see page 36], the prime time race is razor-close: Less than 0.3 separates the Big Four among the all-important 18-49 demo. Yes, even once geriatric CBS is in the mix. The network has wrestled Thursday prime time dominance, the ad-dollar mega-night, from onetime champ NBC.
According to Wall Street estimates, by year's end, CBS will see revenues north of $4.2 billion, still shy of NBC's legendary $5 billion. Much of CBS's gains are at the expense of its 30 Rock rivals. Season to date, CBS is up 7.6% with the 18-49 crowd; NBC has tumbled 11.1%.
(Going-out-on-a-limb department: By this time next year, CBS overtakes NBC in all key demos and challenges its revenue leadership, too.) But this isn't a total valentine to Moonves and CBS.
Remember, the network served time in the PR inferno: the Dan Rather/60 Minutes' George Bush/National Guard document scandal. When you're the boss, you take responsibility for the good, the bad and the ugly.
Maybe this is the time for resurrection. NBC News' dominance rose out of the ashes of the Dateline exploding-truck fiasco and open warfare among the talent at the Today show. Even before the Rather/Bush debacle demoralized Black Rock, CBS News was an also-ran to resource-rich NBC News and ABC News. Moonves could turn a negative into a positive and jump-start his moribund news division with the same single-mindedness that breathed life into its entertainment sibling.
Moonves already has the template.
It took years for CBS to become a credible challenger to NBC. One crucial tool in the turnaround? His patience. The list of CBS shows he has nurtured include Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens, Amazing Race, Big Brother, Joan of Arcadia and Without a Trace.
Yes, he may have lucked into Survivor, a show he was cool on when Mark Burnett first pitched it, and he'll be the first to admit he had no idea CSI would morph into three monster hits. Still, he's a gambler. When Survivor and the first CSI showed muscle, he moved both to Thursday, right in the face of the then-Friends-driven NBC armada. According to one estimate, that move will put $190 million in CBS coffers this year—at NBC's expense.
Competitive to the max, Moonves can't help but gloat that his gambit worked at the enemy's expense. “Once upon the time, NBC was the home of quality. Friends, ER, Seinfeld, Hill Street Blues,” he says. “Now we're that place with CSI, Raymond and Joan of Arcadia. [NBC] is about Fear Factor and Hawaii.”
One can quibble with that analysis. For fresh cutting-edge shows, ABC is the place to be this fall. But Moonves gets points for being smart enough not to program shows too cool for the room.
At the Hall of Fame, Moonves gave props to his corporate cable partner Tom Freston, Viacom's other co-COO. But he said, with no small sense of pride: “I'm a broadcaster first.” Indeed.
No related content found.
No Top Articles