The CBS-owned station group is on a buying spree. Last week, several stations picked up talk show Dr. Phil
for the 2002 season, having bought the strip versions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
and Weakest Link
The CBS stations, one of the few major groups without its own franchise—such as ABC O&Os' Oprah
or Tribune's Friends
repeats—"have made some programming mistakes in the recent past. Dr. Laura
was clearly a mistake," notes Petry Director and VP of Programming Garnett Losak.
But the new regime in place since the Viacom-CBS merger should energize the CBS stations. Fred Reynolds, head of the Viacom Television Stations (16 CBS stations and 19 UPN outlets) since March, says the CBS group "is very, very important to" Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone and President Mel Karmazin and CBS chief Les Moonves. "From Leslie to Mel, I say what we want to do, and they say 'go,' and it's done within seconds," he adds, admitting it's "probably right" that Dr. Laura
was a misstep, but "it wasn't for lack of trying."
Now CBS stations hope they've made smarter moves with Dr. Phil, Millionaire
and Weakest Link. All three are considered marquee merchandise. NBC's Weakest Link
will apparently nab $75,000 in weekly license fees in top markets. Buena Vista's Millionaire
is said to have grabbed at least that. And executives at Viacom subsidiary King World maintain that their shows, including Dr. Phil, always go to the highest bidder in each market.
Admittedly, "we have the resources to do what it takes to get profitable programming on our stations," says Reynolds, adding, "Let me be clear, cash flow is extremely important to me. You can be absolutely sure that we'll make more money having these programs than the programs we had before. Otherwise, we wouldn't do it; Mel would kill me!"
A month and a half ago, Viacom execs reportedly met with every station general manager and program manager to map out a five-year strategy. "We're all looking for the next Oprah," says Ray Rajewski, executive VP of the Viacom group. "There's no question about it."