CBS set for strikes with news, reality

Shows on the bubble get saved, sources say

NEW YORK — In the event of a strike, CBS is prepared to bolster its primetime sked with “Big Brother” and other strike-proof programming, CBS prexy and CEO Leslie Moonves said.

At the Eye net’s pre-upfront presentation for advertisers in Gotham on Thursday, Moonves said he’s “hopeful, even semi-optimistic” that there won’t be a writers or actors strike. If a strike does come to pass, CBS is “very prepared,” said Moonves.

In an interview with Daily Variety, Moonves said CBS has greenlit another season of “Big Brother” to air this summer (Daily Variety, Feb. 21). If there is a strike, however, “Big Brother,” along with the net’s new reality skein “The Amazing Race,” could be pushed to fall. The next installment of “Survivor” is already skedded to premiere in the fall. As it did when it preemed last summer, “Big Brother” would once again air five days a week on the net.

Moonves told advertisers there are three or four more reality projects in development and stressed that they won’t need a lot of prep time to get off the ground. “There is a quick turnaround time with reality,” he said.

In addition, Moonves said the net has stockpiled a “huge inventory” of original movies and theatricals that could air in the event of a strike. The net’s newsmag franchises “48 Hours,” “60 Minutes” and “60 Minutes II” would also expand to fill any primetime holes. “Our news department is always ready,” he said.

While there is no backup strike-proof schedule in place, Moonves said one will be set by May.

“We have the news, we have the reality, we have the movies of the week and miniseries, which is a fail-safe plan. We’ll have a prepared schedule ready to go into the upfront with,” said Moonves.

A-list roster

The net’s development slate includes new shows from A-list creative talent such as Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman, Wolfgang Petersen and John Wells. A mix of comedy and drama, the shows in development highlight established TV talent such as Rob Morrow, Cheri Oteri, French Stewart, Ken Olin and Gil Bellows, as well as film stars Joe Mantegna, James Garner, James Cromwell, Brenda Blethyn, Linda Fiorentino and Richard Dreyfuss.

“Baby Bob,” based on a failed Internet company’s ad campaign featuring a talking baby, elicited giggles throughout the audience. But many were skeptical that the one-trick comedy would work as an ongoing series.

Moonves touted the success of shows introduced at last year’s pre-upfront, including “CSI,” “The District,” “Yes, Dear” and “Survivor.”

As a whole, advertisers reacted favorably to CBS’ presentation, but they are uncertain when and if the new shows will make it to air if there’s a strike.

“We don’t just buy rating points for our clients. We’re buying shows,” said Initiative Media’s director of national media Tim Spengler. “The strike certainly adds one huge uncertainty to the equation.”

On-the-bubble shows benefit

One industry insider said that at all the nets, shows that are on the fence are more likely than usual to be picked up for another season — as strike insurance. “You’re more apt to pick up a returning show in a strike because they’re a lot easier to get up and running faster,” said one source. “Shows on the bubble will get saved.” On the flip side, there could be fewer pilots picked up in the case of a strike.

Moonves acknowledged that “there is an advantage when you have a crew and writers in place.”

Next week in Los Angeles, the other broadcast nets will meet with advertisers to present their primetime development slates. Some nets, including the WB, plan on showing advertising execs both their full slate as well as strike-proof programming.

“We want to give advertisers a chance to plan accordingly for what may occur in the fall,” said WB prexy and chief operating officer Jed Petrick.

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