Although the past few months have been fraught with controversy over finances at CBS-TV, CBS President Laurence A. Tisch sought Monday to assure representatives of the TV network's affiliated stations that "no dollar sign is going to stand in the way of our quest for excellence."
"That difficult period is now behind us," Tisch said in a speech on the opening day of CBS' annual three-day affiliates convention at the Century Plaza. "In short, CBS is refocused again."
Tisch's appearance, his first before the executives whose stations carry CBS programming, followed months of highly publicized belt-tightening efforts at the network, including a controversial decision in March to trim the $300-million budget at CBS News by 10%, resulting in 215 layoffs.
The cutbacks became the focus last month of congressional hearings involving all three networks, examining the question of how management changes and a professed new cost-consciousness might affect the ability of network news to provide quality coverage of world events.
"I may be the first CBS president to have attended a congressional hearing before attending an affiliates meeting," joked Tisch, who took over as chief executive of the company last September.
Tisch described the changes at CBS as all beneficial, however.
"By downsizing the company, we have eliminated both unnecessary layers of management and businesses with only a remote connection to our base," he said. "As a result, CBS today has less red tape and bureaucracy. . . . Today we have established a lower, more sensible expense base for CBS operations."
Addressing himself to the hearings last month before the telecommunications subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Tisch said that statements made by some legislators about CBS' "heavy debt load" were inaccurate.
"I was pleased to correct the record and (to) say to them that, in fact, we have enough cash to cover all of our debt, placing us among the nation's strongest corporations financially," he said.
Gene F. Jankowski, president of the CBS Broadcast Group, joined Tisch at a news conference after the luncheon and added his own assurance that CBS is emerging from a period of flux in a position of financial strength.