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Issues cloud Eye affil meet

Coming out of an encouraging May sweeps, the 43rd annual CBS affiliates meeting, which opened Wednesday night, was supposed to be a love-fest.

But the abrupt resignation of CBS TV and Cable Group CEO Peter Lund last week will force CBS executives to do some spin control over the next few days. Lund was well-liked among many station affiliates, and his smooth style often helped resolve disputes between the network, the affiliates and CBS O&Os.

Affiliates are now questioning what impact Lund’s departure and Mel Karmazin’s new oversight of the CBS station group will have on them. Karmazin is expected to attend the meeting, but he’s not scheduled to address the group, according to an agenda.

While the network and all its affiliates don’t officially gather for business until today, the affiliates advisory board and the network have met, and all sides are attempting to present a united front.

“We all have incredible respect for Lund and his decision to move on,” said Phil Jones, president of Meredith Broadcasting and a member of the affiliates advisory board. “But our attitude is, that’s resolved and we need to go forward and support the people guiding the ship.”

A CBS source echoed those sentiments: “The board is anxious and ready to hear (Westinghouse CEO) Michael (Jordan) speak and to spend some time with him. The mood is one of mutual respect and realistic curiosity.”

Aside from the new CBS structure, questions of program exclusivity are expected to come up. With its Eye on People cabler still in its nascent stages, the issue isn’t as problematic at CBS as it is at NBC. Even so, Lund headed up the effort, and affiliates are anxious to hear how the network addresses the topic today.

“It will be a very telling symbol for the affiliates if Jordan stays in concert with Lund by giving a year’s exclusivity and no cross-promotion,” Jones said.

There may also be some concerns that Karmazin, whose eye is on the bottom line, could return to former owner Larry Tisch’s cost-cutting style, which hurt relations with affiliates. So far, insiders say those fears are unfounded. “Larry (Tisch) was prudent on costs and Mel is, too, but the similarities end there,” Jones said.

Howard Kennedy, vice president and general manager of KMTV Omaha and chairman of the CBS affiliates advisory board, said the corporate shakeup at CBS won’t interfere with an upbeat mood over the May sweeps results and the fall schedule put together by CBS Entertainment president Leslie Moonves, who also will address the group today.

In the aftermath of the restructuring, there are still some corporate issues that need to be resolved. For starters, CBS is having a tough time squelching rumors of a battle brewing between Karmazin and Jordan over control of the company.

“The current arrangements are in transition,” said Alan Bell, president of Freedom Broadcasting. “It would be foolish to conclude that anything we see today is for keeps. We’ve got a large shareholder, stock that’s languishing, and a chairman hired to get the stock up. There’s a lot of natural volatility that sooner or later will create an explosion. We’ve already seen one, and there will probably be more.”

It also remains to be seen whether Moonves ends up with an even greater role at CBS. Some sources are hoping Moonves ends up taking over some of Lund’s former corporate duties as head of the network, and he could have a hand in content areas beyond the entertainment division.

In the meantime, CBS will try to reassure affiliates that these issues won’t stop the network’s forward momentum, and the brass won’t take their eyes off the ball. “Only time will take care of the normal uncertainties of change,” Jones said. “It sounds like a wake, but Peter would want us to be happy and go forward.”

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