On the eve of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, CBS' Leslie Moonves and NBC's Jeff Zucker engaged in a little mano-a-mano action of their own, via warring press releases, which proved to be good sport for all involved.
CBS declared Wednesday that Aug. 12 is the end date of the summer season and declared itself the winner. NBC's Olympics coverage begins Aug. 13, with other events (carried on NBC cable channels) starting sooner than that.
"We're doing it because we can and because it makes us look incredibly good," CBS said in a press release, proclaiming itself winner of the 'real, actual' summer.
In fact, CBS is winning the summer in households, viewers and adults 25-54. It also took the July sweeps in adults 18-49, a sweeps period that is usually ignored but about which Fox decided to alert the press last week. (The press, in their annual August lull, chose to continue the time-honored tradition by ignoring July altogether.)
"This is the best summer for CBS since the networks assumed the right to determine when seasons begin and end," said Leslie Moonves, co-president and co-chief operating officer of Viacom.
"We are sure that this unilateral but fair decision on our part will be greeted with as much respect and serious discussion as was another network's contention earlier this year that the new television season would begin immediately after the 2004 Olympics," said Moonves, referring to NBC, which is launching many of its new shows on August 31.
For its part, NBC sent out its own press release later Wednesday, declaring its support for CBS' propose which it interpreted to mean that if the summer season ended on Aug 12, the fall season must begin on August. 13. "We will continue to abide by the official season start date as established by Nielsen Media Research in cooperation with all the major networks, as we always have," commented Jeff Zucker, president, NBC Universal Television Group. "But we can see advantages to CBS' declaration that the summer is over on Aug. 12 and therefore the new season begins on Aug. 13. If Nielsen and the other networks agree to this new start date, NBC is behind it 100 percent."
CBS responded that it was making no such proposal. "The real news is that NBC is saying it will abide by the traditional broadcast season," said one CBS executive.
CBS also downplayed the huge ratings jump NBC is about to reap from its Olympics coverage. Anyone attempting to salvage their flagging summer performance by two weeks of special-events programming, CBS said, is simply talking through their hats.
"We certainly don't think anybody who knows anything about anything will be fooled by those kinds of shenanigans, even if they are being carried out on an Olympic scale," Moonves said.
Zucker agreed with this, repeating a familiar refrain that included ratings for such large-draw sporting events as the Super Bowl, NCAA Basketball Tournament and NFL football overruns also amounts to "shenanigans" when those results are used to compare the performance of each network's entertainment lineup.
Programming repeats of its comedies and crime franchises as well as the fifth seasons of its two popular summer reality shows-Amazing Race and Big Brother-CBS is up 3% in adults 25-54. In 18-49, the network trails NBC by 0.1 rating point, its best position in a summer contest since the introduction of people meters.
Unfazed, Zucker congratulated CBS for finishing a strong No. 2 for the summer in television's key demographic of adults 18-49 and for its victories in adults 25-54 and overall total viewers.
"Looking at these results, it's easy to see why advertisers made CBS a solid No. 2 at the upfront this year," Zucker noted. But the fun didn't stop there. Volleying back, one CBS executive said: "Besides being number-two in viewers and adults 25-54, it is also clear that NBC is number-two in humor."
For the record, so far NBC is down 13% in viewers, 14% in adults 18-49, and 18% in adults 25-54 summer-to-summer. CBS is up 4% in viewers, 4% in adults 18-49 and 3% in adults 25-54.