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.
Five years ago, in a meeting with "60 Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt, one of our clients asked Don what new plans he had for the coming season. Don simply stated: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
This same situation may well exist with the new CBS Entertainment team.
The new team of Bud Grant, president of CBS Entertainment, and Kim LeMasters, vice president in charge of programming, along with the usual super contribution by Steve Mills' made-for-TV movies, may be exactly what CBS needs. Of course, if the new programs and future schedules do not work, CBS will try to fix it.
ABC may also help CBS' new team. ABC's Thursday, Friday and Saturday schedules are almost totally filled with uncertainties.
So, what kind of hand has the new CBS entertainment team been dealt?
They have 23 cards. But, at a time when comedy is king, they have only two returning jokers: "Kate & Allie" and "Newhart."
We divided CBS' 23 fall programs into four classifications:
- Returning hits include: "Dallas," "Murder, She Wrote," "Cagney & Lacey," "Knots Landing," "60 Minutes," "Newhart," "CBS Sunday Movie," "Kate & Allie" and "Falcon Crest."
- New shows include: "Designing Women," "Downtown," "Kay O'Brien, Surgeon," "My Sister Sam," "Together We Stand," "Better Days" and "The Wizard."
- Returning shows with undetermined futures are: "Tuesday Movie," "The Equalizer" and "The Twilight Zone."
- Returning shows lacking upside potential are: "Scarecrow & Mrs. King," "Magnum, P.I.," "The New Mike Hammer" and "Simon & Simon." We believe that there are nine returning hits. But we feel that at least two of these hits will fall to second in their time periods when faced with new competition. The shows facing challenges this season are: "Knots Landing," up against "Cheers," "Night Court" and "The Colbys"; "Dallas," which competes with "Miami Vice," and "Falcon Crest," which goes up against "L.A. Law."
Meanwhile, "Kate & Allie" and "Newhart" are going to new time slots.
Now, if our assumptions are correct and two shows drop out of "hit" status, CBS will be left with seven hits and seven new shows on its fall schedule.
CBS still doesn't have enough hits to get back into the No. 1 network slot. Their hits are not recent and have lost a lot of steam. But CBS is doing the best with what it has. There is an all-out, 100% effort to do well because there is too much money at stake not to.
In the past two seasons, CBS has always held back some of its new programs for the second season. We think this may be the case again. One show coming, "Houston Nights," could be a hit. It has a terrific star--Michael Pare. Pare could be huge. He has the same kind of pulling power and draw that Tom Selleck has. CBS is planning to do a two-hour movie to kick off the show.
Another new show, "The Outlaws," from Universal Television Inc., could be very big and may be on very soon to replace "The Wizard" on Tuesday nights. (The "Outlaws" is about five outlaws from the Wild West who are zapped by a bolt of lightning while escaping from a bank heist in Houston in the 1880s. They wake up to find themselves living in 1986.)
Meanwhile, what is happening with Mr. Paley, who is a legend, and Mr. Tisch, who is a brilliant businessman, has nothing to do with all the television program people. They are truly 3,000 miles apart. The program people are just going ahead and making things happen on both coasts.
It would be terrible not to give the new CBS Entertainment team an opportunity to show what they can do. These new people are veterans. They are accepted in the creative community in Hollywood as being bright and creative. They could end up being exactly the answer CBS is looking for.