"Populist" Moonves Disses Showtime

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You could almost hear the collective gulp at Showtime. It’s not every day that a network’s new boss disparages its programming in public and on the record.

Speaking at Morgan Stanley’s annual media investor conference last week, CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves shared his thoughts about the premium cable channel his company acquired last January in its divorce from Viacom.

After praising Showtime’s financial position, he then panned its approach to original programming as pandering to highbrow TV critics rather than mass TV viewers.

Moonves believes Showtime ought to have shows that are every bit as popular as HBO’s The Sopranos,despite having half its subscriber base
(14 million, versus 28 million).

The problem, he says, is that "Showtime was a bit too much of an off-off-Broadway play. They were interested in critics more than audiences. Anybody who knows me knows audiences are the thing. I am a populist, and you can take your reviews and stick them. Just give me big audiences."

Although insiders say that Moonves has said as much in private, there’s no reason to think he isn’t happy to have a respectable cable sandbox to play in. Still, he isn’t one to speak off-the-cuff. So, Showtime, let’s dumb it down, a little, huh?

The boss didn’t elaborate on which shows he considers beyond the fringe (Fat Actress?), but apparently he likes the drug-dealing soccer mom from Weeds and the terrorists-next-door on Sleeper Cell. Says one insider, Moonves considers those shows "really commercial." Of course, they’re no Mamma Mia.

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