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VIEWPOINTS : CBS : How Can CBS Cut Static, Get Programmed for Success?

September 28, 1986|MARK RIELY | Mark Riely is a cable and broadcast analyst for Eberstadt Fleming Inc., a New York-based institutional brokerage firm

CBS, once called "the Tiffany of Broadcasting," has been tarnished in recent months. A year ago, the network began sliding into second place and it may be headed toward third in the ratings this year. Profits are down and hundreds of broadcasting jobs have been cut in recent months.

The myriad of problems at CBS didn't sit well with Laurence A. Tisch, the New York investor and self-made billionaire who recently bought nearly 25% of CBS stock. And two weeks ago, the festering turmoil in the top ranks of CBS became a widely reported public sore. Chairman Thomas H. Wyman was ousted, reportedly because of his rift with Tisch and because he sought a potential buyer for CBS without approval from the board of directors.

In the wake of Wyman's removal, Tisch has joined company founder and broadcast pioneer William S. Paley at the helm of CBS. Company directors have formed a committee to search for Wyman's successor. The winning candidate faces the challenge of boosting morale, cutting costs and attracting new talent to CBS.

The Times invited a variety of observers in or near the broadcasting industry to provide some insights into the beleaguered network--and to offer some advice.

The CBS board of directors should be looking for someone with a strong background in the media and entertainment business who can bring a broader vision and sense of direction to the company.

They should not repeat the mistake of hiring a professional manager unversed in the media business, nor should they consider a traditional broadcast executive deeply rooted in the old ways of conducting the network and television station businesses.

Broadcasting--still the core of CBS--is undergoing a significant evolution within a broader, competitive environment. The new chief executive will have to have the ability and authority to develop and execute major strategic initiatives if the company hopes to restore any meaningful growth potential.

William S. Paley never sought out this kind of CEO before, and the company has paid the price. He and Laurence A. Tisch (acting chief executive) have to recognize that the company's difficulties extend beyond the cyclical softness in network advertising and the disappointing ratings and that cost-cutting, while necessary, is not a sufficient response.

One hopes that they will select someone who can operate creatively and forcefully as they step back.

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