Negotiations for Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, producers of "The Cosby Show" and "Roseanne," to assume control of CBS's low-rated entertainment division collapsed Friday.
CBS has been seeking to fill the job since Kim LeMasters resigned as its entertainment president on Nov. 30, following the first two years in the network's history in which it finished in the ratings basement.
But knowledgeable sources said that, in fact, Carsey and Werner were discussing far more than the presidency of CBS Entertainment, which would have paid
them much less than the millions they earn as TV's most successful comedy producers.
Seeking to reorganize the entire network process that has led to sharp losses of audiences, they were hoping for a "joint venture" in which they would supervise the entertainment division and introduce new methods of developing programs, the sources said.
"We were so excited," Carsey told The Times, "because it had to do with how a network does business so that finally viewers would get the best possible product."
Refusing to discuss specifics of their proposal, Carsey nonetheless added: "Think about the best tradition of the best-run studio, with the best talent, in the best time there ever was, and the working atmosphere that came out of that.
"Think of an image of a place where the best creative people can do the best creative work under the best circumstances. I guess we had this dream going. A network has the resources to do this. But it was too much to iron out in too little time. They really did their best and so did we."
Werner added, "It would have been a terrific challenge, and we're sorry we couldn't resolve all the issues."
Carsey and Werner, both former ABC program executives, issued a statement saying conversations "have ended due to the time pressures and the complexities of the discussions." CBS said it agreed with that statement.
The two producers, whose company also turns out a third high-rated sitcom, "A Different World," denied reports that a CBS buyout of their firm was part of the negotiations.
Sources also denied that the "joint venture" that Carsey and Werner sought would have included a significant ownership stake in CBS. They would have reported to Howard Stringer, president of the CBS Broadcast Group.
Those close to the negotiations said CBS wanted a quick resolution to matters that would require more time. One reason clearly was the embarrassment CBS suffered two years ago when it took its time filling the post vacated by former entertainment President B. Donald (Bud) Grant, so that LeMasters inherited the job knowing that he wasn't first choice.
Various Hollywood executives, including Steven Bochco, co-creator of "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law," were interviewed for the position. Bochco turned it down. LeMasters, who had been Grant's No. 2 executive in the entertainment division, finally got it.
Fearful of appearing to be disorganized, CBS has been trying to make a fast decision this time. Among the executives it reportedly is interested in hiring as entertainment chief is Jeff Sagansky, a former NBC programmer and now president of Tri-Star Pictures. His recent films include "Steel Magnolias" and "Look Who's Talking."
After the collapse of the talks with Carsey-Werner, CBS spokeswoman Ann Morfogen said in New York: "It wasn't a money problem." She added: "Don't worry about us. We'll be all right."
But a deal with Carsey and Werner could have been enormously beneficial to CBS as television heads into a new era.
Next year, restrictions will be removed on the number of entertainment shows that ABC, CBS and NBC are able to produce and own themselves. Ownership of successful programs will be a key to the networks' survival because of the shows' potential value in secondary markets. (The networks will still be barred from syndicating shows directly, but they will draw bigger fees by selling successful comedies to syndication companies.) "The Cosby Show" brought about $650 million from stations in its initial syndicated sale.
Comedies--the shows in which Carsey and Werner specialize--are the biggest moneymakers in the U.S. syndication market. Hourlong dramas such as "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law," on the other hand, are a much tougher sell, usually drawing smaller audiences in reruns. They are not programmed often in the key time periods of independent stations, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., because these are family hours when chores, errands, dinner and children also require attention--and comedy shows can be watched while on the go.
Only occasionally do one-hour series, such as the action series "Hunter" and "Magnum, P.I.," do well in reruns.
Many candidates have been mentioned to replace LeMasters at CBS, but Richard J. MacDonald, a media investment analyst, said: "I think there are a lot of people who knew they were being considered and had serious doubts about taking the job."
Some industry watchers think CBS Inc. President Laurence Tisch and Stringer are less patient and interfere more than higher-ups at the other two networks, thus leaving any entertainment president with little job security or sense of creative control.
Even if the description of Tisch and Stringer isn't accurate, the perception can be damaging, said Chris Dixon, entertainment analyst with Kidder, Peabody & Co.
"There's a perception that Mr. Tisch and Mr. Stringer are outside the Hollywood community; there's some concern about whether they really know how business is done," Dixon said. "So the foremost issue is not whether it's an interesting job or a great opportunity, but whether you have the support."
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