The real-life CBS drama that continues to unfold in New York could mean "good news" for Hollywood, production executives here say--if there's any news at all.
The transfer of control to Laurence A. Tisch, acting chief executive, and William Paley, founder and acting chairman, could be beneficial to program producers, some say, because it brings CBS a stability it hasn't seen since Ted Turner made a play for the company 18 months ago.
"Instability always creates some trepidation on the part of program suppliers," said Robert Harris, president of Universal Television, which has 4 1/2 hours of prime-time programming on CBS' fall schedule--more than any other company. "Now we all feel very comfortable with the people running CBS. As a whole, this change is actually good news for Hollywood."
"Internal tug of war is a divisive thing, and now clearly one side has won," added David Salzman, president of Lorimar-Telepictures Television, producer of such shows as "Dallas" and "Knots Landing" and CBS' No. 2 supplier. "Virtually everybody else can now focus on their jobs."
Some executives see no effect on Hollywood. "I do not believe it trickles down (to us)," Columbia Pictures Television Group President Herman Rush said of the CBS shake-up. Rush, whose company produces the new sitcom "Designing Women" for CBS, among other shows, concurs with many TV studio chiefs and independent producers who paint a business-as-usual picture for Hollywood. "We supply programming and the entertainment division of CBS licenses it," Rush said. "They've always had a commitment to quality."
But Paley's longtime commitment to quality shows is encouraging to some industry executives, who believe the network's distinctive identity waned under the leadership of ousted chief executive Thomas Wyman.
Salzman believes the Paley-Tisch regime will be interested in buying a "broader spectrum" of programs from Hollywood. He contrasted the CBS lineup under Paley--shows like "The Ed Sullivan Show," "All in the Family," "Mary Tyler Moore" "and even 'The Beverly Hillbillies' "--with today's CBS, which lacks "the kind of well-defined identity . . . it had at its zenith."
Paley's attention to program quality can be expected to be carried on by whomever he and Tisch select as permanent chairman, Salzman said.
Producers also are heartened by Tisch's comments earlier this week that he wants "the best product possible on the screen every day of the week." Though Tisch is known as a stern cost-cutter in his movie theater and hotel businesses, producers are confident he will stick by his statement that programming is "not going to be a question of nickels and dimes."
CBS Entertainment President B. Donald (Bud) Grant, the link between Hollywood and the CBS corporate empire, noted that networks and producers already have taken their own hard look at the cost of prime-time fare. Both sides of the business were hit hard this year, with hourlong action shows slumping in the syndication market--where producers make most of their profits--and disinflation causing a downturn in advertising revenues.
"We have been fiscally responsible around here," said Grant, noting that his division has "never gone over budget." Though that factor alone might not protect him if CBS' programs don't eventually return the No. 2 network to its top-dog status, industry insiders believe that Grant's job is, at present, secure.
Hollywood's response to the Tisch takeover is in sharp contrast to the reaction in April of last year when Atlanta-based media mogul Turner seemed poised to wrest control of the network. "It would be a much different CBS," one without a "well-balanced programming lineup," Lee Rich, then-president of Lorimar and currently chairman of United Artists said at the time.
Perhaps the most telling example of how Hollywood is reacting to Tisch came at a recent private party attended by many of Hollywood's top executives. "At least six studio heads were present," said one insider who attended, "and no one was discussing CBS."