Because of production delays caused by the writers' strike, CBS cannot begin rolling out its new fall programming until late October at the earliest, Kim LeMasters, president of the network's entertainment division, said Wednesday.
LeMasters described the 21-week-old strike as having "inverted " the upcoming season, saying that September's stopgap programming would be more like normal mid-season fare, whereas the new programming would come out at mid-season.
"It's going to be very difficult to anticipate a mid-season," he said.
LeMasters, speaking to a national gathering here in Los Angeles of TV critics and other newspaper reporters who cover television, said that, like the other networks, CBS does not expect to have a "premiere week" of new shows as during a normal fall season. Rather, the shows will probably debut one by one beginning--at the earliest--the third week in October.
The order in which the shows will premiere is contingent on how long it takes each to get on its feet following settlement of the strike, he said. The average lead time needed to start up a series would be six to eight weeks, with the new comedies taking the least time and new dramas taking more time to get under way.
LeMasters said that the network's previously announced programming plans for September and early October--a slate that will mix reruns with original programming, including a variety show with the Smothers Brothers, miniseries and made-for-TV movies--is definite, since the series need lead time following the resolution of the strike. In addition, CBS is not inclined to introduce new programming against the Summer Olympics on NBC or the baseball playoffs (on ABC) and World Series (on NBC), which will be taking place in succession from mid-September through mid-October.
LeMasters said a concern for the quality of the programming would keep the network from pushing production companies to produce their shows faster than usual to make up for time lost during the labor dispute.
He added that pouring extra dollars into series production following the strike would not help speed up the writing process, although it could possibly hasten post-production.
Responding to questions about a statement made earlier by CBS research chief David Poltrack that CBS faced greater risk of losing viewers this fall than the other networks, LeMasters replied that despite NBC's advantage of the Summer Olympics and ABC's new reality shows and sporting events, CBS does not plan to "just roll up the carpet" and let ABC take over the second-place slot this fall.
"We're going to be very, very aggressive," LeMasters repeated several times. "I agree with Mr. Poltrack that (attracting fall viewers) will require a unique promotional effort on our part, but that's always true."
LeMasters said CBS will show two new miniseries, "Jack the Ripper" and "Dadah Is Death," sometime prior to the first 18 hours of ABC's "War and Remembrance" miniseries, which begins in Nov. 13. He added that the network was selecting its theatrical films and made-for-TV movies for fall with an eye toward counterprogramming the Olympics, featuring youth-oriented and female-oriented films to attract the non-Olympic audience.
Although the network earlier added several "strike-proof" shows to its fall schedule--two variety shows that do not require guild writers and two entertainment series to be shot overseas--LeMasters said CBS considered but rejected the idea of reviving old TV series by recasting and re-shooting them, as is being done with "Mission: Impossible" and "Police Story" on ABC and "The Hardy Boys" on NBC.
"We did think about it," LeMasters acknowledged. "But I think there's a danger in recycling TV. It's a big risk. We felt that the kinds of (strike programming) we went for shouldn't be recycled TV. It's something we've got to avoid. We don't want to look like a used furniture store."
In his discussion of non-strike issues facing CBS, LeMasters noted that CBS is still struggling to improve its appeal to a younger audience through finding good comedies and attractive 8 p.m. shows.
And LeMasters sought to put to rest rumors that the hiring last week of Barbara Corday to serve in the second-in-command position in prime-time programming with LeMasters represents a lack of confidence in his abilities to program prime-time himself.
In answer to the question "Who hired Barbara Corday?," LeMasters said firmly: "I did." He joked: "This lady is going to turn our network around. And if she doesn't, they'll fire me ."