If Leslie Moonves, chairman and chief executive officer of CBS, had had his way, “Survivor” would never have aired.
“People ask me what was the worst pitch I ever heard and I tell them it was probably ‘Survivor,'” Moonves said.
Luckily, Marc Burnett, executive producer of “Survivor,” was able to change his mind.
“It certainly helped change our fate at CBS,” Moonves said.
Moonves recounted his experiences at CBS and described the process of putting together a television schedule at Liney Chittenden Hall. Over eighty people came to listen to him speak; the audience drew from both the Yale community and people from New Haven and surrounding towns.
Moonves began his speech by showing CBS’s “Anthem Piece” that the network shows to advertisers while trying to gain their support during the May “Upfront.” ÊHe then spoke and answered questions.
Since he began at CBS in 1995 as President of the company, Moonves has completely turned it around. Though CBS had horrible ratings when Moonves stepped on board, it is now one of the highest ranked networks in television, and was the most watched network for the 2002-2003 season. Moonves attributes much of the success of the network to the fact that it targets demographics other than the one most networks solely target, the 18-49 group.
“We don’t just care about 18-49 year-olds,” Moonves said. “We do believe that there’s life after fifty–Our slogan at CBS is ‘It’s all here,'” he said. “We have great news, great sports, and great entertainment.”
Moonves took the audience through the process of coming up with a
season’s schedule, beginning with accepting pitches for shows in June.
Between the three major departments that take care of CBS primetime
shows-comedy, drama, and alternatives (for shows like “Survivor”
and “Big Brother”), CBS gets around 600-700 pitches. Executives then
examine the choices until they have about twenty scripts, and then go
into pilot production mode. The pilots are tested in front of large
audiences in Las Vegas.
So far, this formula has worked well for CBS. Out of the six new shows
this season, only one has been cancelled.
Another formula that seems to have worked for CBS is their
controversial mini-series and specials — that is, until earlier this
week. CBS had planned on airing a special about the Reagans, but was
pressured by both the left and the right to not air it.
“Upon seeing the movie, I decided that it was quite biased against the
Reagans,” Moonves said. “I would have liked to have a controversial
piece that showed the good and the bad.”
Moonves went on to talk about the effects of TiVo on network television
(he thinks more product endorsement will show up during the shows
themselves), minorities in television, the popularity of David
Letterman versus Jay Leno, and the effects that other networks have on
ÊÊ Ê Ê Ê”There’s nothing on Fox that would make us change what we do,”
Moonves said, inciting laughter from the audience.
ÊÊ Ê Ê ÊThe Reagan incident was a definitely attracted some of the
crowd, such as Herb Portnoy, a resident of Hamden, CT, who read about
the talk in the New Haven register.
ÊÊ Ê Ê Ê”All of a sudden, [CBS] did a back flip and refused to put [the
special] on,” Portnoy said. “I’m interested in finding out why.”
Others came to the speech because out of curiosity in Moonves’ job.
ÊÊ Ê Ê Ê”I’m interested in entertainment law and he’s such an
accomplished businessman,” Ashley Yeargan ’05 said.
ÊÊ Ê Ê ÊYeargan was referring to Moonves impressive career. He was
chosen by Entertainment Weekly as Hollywood’s most powerful man.