Violence not surprisingly headlined CBS Entertainment prez Jeff Sagansky’s Q&A session with TV critics Saturday, with the exec saying the entire industry must take responsibility on the issue — pointing a finger particularly at cable and independent stations.

In terms of verbal conflict, Sagansky also dismissed body language from NBC that the Peacock web will vigorously protectmaterial from “Late Night With David Letterman” when the host’s CBS show premieres, saying he can “understand why NBC is upset about losing Letterman” but that he doesn’t put much stock in the threats.

NBC produced “Late Night” and thus owns the program, and claims rights to its sundry regular features. Sagansky wouldn’t discuss the makeup of the new Letterman show (deferring to the host, who’ll do that tonight) but quipped that NBC’s tack would be like CBS saying it owns baseball by virtue of airing it the last four years.

Political ‘grandstanding’

Although he endorsed the four-network decision to air advisories regarding violence, Sagansky contended there’s ample political grandstanding in the whole debate, saying congressmen “knew what they were doing” in going after an easy target like television and that he hopes the discourse “will embolden Congress to look at some of the other causes of violence that are a little tougher to take on, like handgun control.”

Sagansky cited the contrast between murder rates in the U.S. and Europe — which airs the same movies broadcast here — to show that other issues affect societal violence. He also asked critics to look at pro-social programming, saying, “It’s not just about what we take off, it’s about what we put on.”

Singling out Paramount’s “The Untouchables” and USA Network movies, Sagansky maintained that indies and cable offer more violent programming than the broadcast webs, suggesting that “everybody’s got to be a part of this” effort to curb violence — including producers, who must take responsibility for their own programs.

Even the congressmen blasting TV “didn’t know what channel they were watching these things on,” Sagansky said, adding that viewers don’t discriminate either.

There will continue to be action and violence on TV, Sagansky said, though the debate over values “is going to have an impact in what you see on television.”

The bigger question, he contended, involves how violence is depicted and scheduled. Many true-crime movies, for example, deal with underlying social issues — such as spousal abuse or stalking — in a manner that can provide a public service if handled responsibly, Sagansky maintained.

Even so, CBS’ crime-heavy Tuesday movie will change somewhat next season as the web tries to “vary the mix.” No CBS show will regularly carry a violence advisory, though individual episodes might, Sagansky said, adding a distinction between period pieces — like the miniseries “Return to Lonesome Dove,” set to air in November — and more graphic, up-to-date depictions.

CBS senior VP of planning and research David Poltrack presented data showing that only 54% of children’s network TV viewing falls in primetime and that even that figure skews heavily toward sitcoms, not action fare. The top 10 network shows (and 23 of the top 30) among children 2-11 are sitcoms.

“In short, children are not watching the programming that will be carrying the violence advisories,” Poltrack said.

On other matters, Sagansky confirmed plans for an early debut of “The Trouble With Larry” paired with “Tall Hopes” in the 8 o’clock Wednesday hour starting Aug. 25, a week later than expected (Daily Variety, July 8). The two shows, from Lorimar and Warner Bros. TV, are expected to fly under the recently consolidated Warner Bros. TV Production banner.

He also said that Tom Arnold is working with Steve Pepoon, a supervising producer on “The Jackie Thomas Show,” developing his new CBS sitcom, “Tom,” planned for midseason.

Asked about Arnold’s wife and “Roseanne,” Sagansky commented cryptically that she remains under contract to ABC. CBS’ deal with the Arnolds is widely perceived as a means of positioning the network to make a bid for “Roseanne” after its ABC contract lapses next season.

Sagansky added that CBS has a series in the works from producer Barney Rosenzweig and that Christopher Reeve will star in two Western-themed TV movies.

Turning to a near-forgotten issue from last year’s press tour, the pursuit of adults 18-49, Sagansky said CBS is the only network with a CPM (cost per thousand) increase this year and that “way more advertisers are coming around to buying the (older) demographic that we’re selling.” CBS has placed its emphasis on the 35-54 age bracket.

Sagansky refused to concede at this point that there was anything un-kosher about CBS’ “Noah’s Ark” special, saying the web is investigating the situation and that it’s “unclear what the facts are.” A published account maintained that much of the documentary was a hoax.

CBS again defended the web’s Friday-night game plan, saying last season’s older-appeal sitcoms represented the right strategy, just the wrong shows. Sagansky also sought to downplay the perception that the Monday lineup is on the wane, saying “Love & War” would be “spectacular” with the addition of Annie Potts.

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