It took NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker about one-half second to name the non-NBC show he most covets: CBS's CSI: Miami, the only new show on network prime time virtually guaranteed to become a hit.
"We expanded Law & Order, which gave other people some ideas," he ribbed CBS Entertainment President Nancy Tellem.
Zucker wasn't the only programming chief confessing his CSI: Miami
envy at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society luncheon in Beverly Hills last week; both UPN's Dawn Ostroff and ABC's Susan Lyne said the same. Ostroff also has her eye on Fox's new action show Fastlane.
The WB's Jordan Levin is partial to ABC's new late-night talker with host Jimmy Kimmel (also co-host of Comedy Central's The Man Show, with Loveline's Adam Corolla). Fox's Gail Berman would like The WB's Everwood.
CNN's Jeff Greenfield, the moderator, also got the panelists to reveal what they consider the biggest risk they are taking this fall. For ABC's Lyne, it is placing the Bonnie Hunt comedy Life With Bonnie
at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, opposite longtime NBC hit Frasier. CBS's Tellem is nervous about reconfiguring her entire Friday-night lineup. Fox's Berman worries about putting two comedy half-hours on Sunday at 9 p.m., opposite other networks' legal dramas. NBC's Zucker frets about launching a hit on Tuesday at 8 p.m. "We haven't been able to open Tuesdays at 8 p.m. since God created it," he joked.
Ostroff noted UPN's launch of a new version of the old Rod Serling hit, The Twilight Zone. And Levin is concerned about flipping the WB's Thursday and Sunday prime time schedules.
All the network chieftains agreed that reality programming—or unscripted programming, as Zucker prefers to call it—is here to stay, although he and Levin disagreed about whether that is a good thing.
"The bread and butter of network television still needs to be scripted programming," Levin said. "The emotional relationships people form with television characters are long-lasting."
But Zucker believes that a "far bigger threat to the networks is that we continue to put on scripted programming that our audiences don't want."
Moreover, the group collectively agrees, reality programming always has been around in some fashion—think Candid Camera
—but gained a new catchphrase when CBS's Survivor
became such a successful franchise.
Five of the six said they are not particularly worried about personal video recorders —such as Replay TV and TiVo, which allow viewers to skip right over advertisements—eliminating advertising-supported TV.
"I don't think the government would allow it," Zucker said.
But Levin said The WB often worries about development of PVRs and the gradual erosion of ad-supported television. Levin's boss, Turner Broadcasting Chairman and CEO Jamie Kellner, argued earlier this year that, if consumers want to zap commercials on PVR, they should be required to pay an extra $250 per year for the privilege.