Responding to criticism of weak 10 p.m. programs, CBS boss Les Moonves told the annual affiliates meeting last week in Las Vegas that the network will do a better job with news lead-ins this fall.
For his part, Viacom CEO Mel Karmazin insisted that the signs of an ad recovery are unmistakable. His gut tells him, he said, that more advertisers are going to buy upfront this year for two reasons: the fear of getting locked out of network TV in 2003 and the fact that advertisers paid more this year by waiting for the scatter market.
Even the sticky subjects were handled with apparent cordiality by both sides. Sticky subject No. 1 is the NCAA: CBS wants the affiliates to help pay for its multi-year, multibillion-dollar rights contract that goes into effect next year. No specific proposal is on the table yet, but an affiliate committee will meet with network executives to see if a deal can be worked out. "That's a work in progress," said CBS Affiliate Board Chairman Ray Deaver, who characterized the meeting as "very positive" overall.
Network executives also made clear that they are firmly committed to the 7-9 a.m. news block and that there is no thought (on their end) of handing The Early Show
time period back to affiliates. (Some stations do a "blended" local-national hour from 7 to 8, however.)
Deaver said that, for the most part, affiliates support that stance, although Meredith Broadcasting President Kevin O'Brien has suggested that giving the time back might be a reasonable quid pro quo for network compensation reductions.
CBS President Andrew Heyward and Early Show
executive producer Michael Bass are searching for departing Bryant Gumbel's replacement; some affiliates said they were told Heyward wants to fill that post by summer's end.