Stringer defends slow lane to info highway

The information superhighway remains a nebulous concoction that won’t be built by telephone companies who “know nothing about programming,” CBS/Broadcast Group president Howard Stringer told visiting TV critics Thursday.

The exec also admitted to engaging in some “theatrics” to get his point across to affiliates about losing the National Football League contract to Fox Broadcasting Co. and questioned the motives of many making noise about television violence. “Politics is about headlines,” he said.

Picking up on remarks Wednesday night by CBS Entertainment prexy Jeff Sagansky, Stringer said the network would proceed gingerly with plans for a latenight series to follow “LateShow With David Letterman,” seeking an established talent, “not some Joe Blow fresh out of the Comedy Store.” Sagansky said the goal was to launch a post-Letterman show by September.

As for boarding the superhighway, Stringer defended CBS’ slow-going exploration of cable and new technologies, stressing that the former still remains reliant on off-network fare and that the 500-channel future at this point is “all talk”– and merely augurs new outlets for “sex, gambling, videogames and home shopping.”

Stringer, who railed against the NFL in a recent meeting with CBS affiliates, said he was angry about the league’s failure to recognize its longstanding relationship with the network but not necessarily at Fox for snagging the deal. As for being outbid for the rights, he noted: “I’m not in the business of going bankrupt for sporting events. You have to remember, I already did that”– a reference to the more than $ 400 million the network lost on its baseball contract.

Sports mag mulled

The exec confirmed that the network has discussed airing an hourlong weekend sports magazine Sunday’s in the place of “NFL Today,” though he acknowledged that affils had fretted that such a show may actually promote football on Fox and NBC.

Regarding violence, Stringer said one goal was to try “reaching out more directly” to take positive action, such as the three-hour documentary the web has planned on the issue for next fall. He added that the networks had been made “a scapegoat” in the debate and that the topic “deserves more thoughtful treatment than bringing a couple of network schmucks up to Washington” and berating them for their programming.

Bone of contention

Though CBS figures to win the current season thanks to a boost from the Winter Olympics, Stringer acknowledged that next year is “going to be a dogfight.” ABC is already yapping at the Eye web’s heels and will air the Super Bowl and World Series during the ’94-95 term.

Stringer declined comment on published reports that Broadcast Group exec VP Peter Lund will be named president of the CBS TV Network, a vacant post. Questions also remain about expanded duties for Sagansky when his contract expires in June.

Defending CBS’ older demographic skew, Sagansky said the network sold more advertising time against the 25-54 demographic than the 18-49 this season –“a breakthrough,” he said, that heralds a trend with the aging of the Baby Boom generation.

No regrets

Sagansky also refused to back down from the web’s decision to extend orders of no more than eight episodes to new series for last fall. “I don’t regret for one second any of the short orders,” he said, adding that the network will “continue to order short where we feel it’s prudent.”

He added that Aries Spears, the co-star of the one-shot-and-out drama “South of Sunset,” had signed a development deal with the network.

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