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At CBS-TV, Lund Gets a Free Hand and a Loud Ovation

June 02, 1995|DANIEL HOWARD CERONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At their annual meeting in Los Angeles on Thursday, a surprisingly unified body of CBS-TV affiliates expressed relief that the struggling network's guidance is in the hands of a broadcaster who understands their problems, rather than CBS Inc. Chairman Larry Tisch.

In a closed-door session the day before, Tisch told the station executives that Peter Lund, who was named president of the CBS Broadcast Group in February, had complete autonomy in running the TV and radio division. The low-profile Lund is well-known and liked among the affiliates after spending much of his career running CBS-owned stations.

"The bulk of Tisch's message was that he was turning everything over to the new guy," said John Radeck, whose K.B. Media Inc. runs a CBS station in Yuma, Ariz. "You could almost hear a sigh of relief because a broadcaster is being put in charge, not a financial person."

On Thursday, the new guy made a good impression, defusing what was expected to be a fireworks display by angry affiliates. Before the unveiling of CBS' fall prime-time schedule, Lund soothed the group of about 200 by empathizing with their frustrations. One station manager described Lund's opening remarks to the affiliate body as "group healing."

In his comments, Lund openly acknowledged the troubles that have plagued CBS--from the constant rumors of a sale, to the defection of stations, to the removal of Connie Chung from the evening news, to falling dramatically from first place to third in the ratings last season. In fact, Lund pointed out that the network's research chief, David Poltrack, was absent from the proceedings by design.

"We figured our ratings performance of the past year was painfully clear to all of you," Lund said, "and that you'd rather have us get on to next year's programming and not try and turn a sow's ear into a silk purse."

Lund laid out a strategy that he said is in response to the many needs of the affiliates. Chief among those needs is a complete overhaul of the network's prime-time schedule--with 11 new series scheduled for the fall--to attract younger, more urban viewers. Rather than go for broad household ratings, CBS wants a concentration of viewers 18 to 49.

"CBS is going off the household standard," Lund told affiliates, who have been crying out for the network to help them deliver those younger viewers into their late news. "We're not going to be measuring a category called 'fruit salad' when all anyone really cares about is apples and oranges."

While Tisch pleased the affiliates on Wednesday by giving Lund autonomy over the network, he frustrated them at the same time by refusing to field any questions regarding the possible sale of CBS, a rumor that continued to swirl on Thursday.

"The rampant rumor is he's going to sell if somebody meets his price," said Andy Lee of KNOE-TV in Monroe, La.

But, for a change, the affiliates didn't seem too concerned.

"Larry will do what Larry does," said Perry Kidder, general manager of WFRV-TV in Green Bay, Wis. "We needed Larry [here] for one thing: to make sure Peter's running the show."

Interviews with a dozen affiliate executives found unanimous support for Lund. "There's a good feeling in the affiliate body right now. We're 1,000% behind Peter," Kidder said. "You have a guy running the network who was an affiliate for years. He came up through the ranks."

"He understands us," added Scott Chorski, of WSAW-TV in Wausau, Wis. "He will not dance around the issues. He got off on the right foot today."

Lund cited "rebuilding our [prime-time] schedule" as his top priority. According to Lund, every time slot is under the microscope.

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