Eye’s O&Os turning to Gotham vet

Former WNBC prexy Swanson heads Viacom group

NEW YORK — The CBS-owned TV stations, many of which lag well behind those of ABC and NBC in major cities, have landed in Dennis Swanson an exec VP and chief operating officer who brings three decades of station experience to the job.

Swanson, who resigned as president and general manager of WNBC New York last week, will take responsibility for the 39 Viacom TV stations, encompassing 20 CBS O&Os, 18 UPN stations and one indie.

Joining Swanson, as senior VP of station operations for the Viacom stations group, is Tony Petitti, who moves up from VP/general manager of WCBS New York. Petitti’s successor as G.M. at WCBS is Lew Leone, who has resigned as VP sales for WNBC.

Analyzing the Swanson hire, Bill Carroll, VP/director of programming for the Katz TV Group, compared the move to an also-ran baseball team signing as manager a veteran who previously managed two championship teams.

Oprah’s start

“Swanson has intimate knowledge of the ABC station philosophy,” said Carroll, referring to Swanson’s positions as prexy of the ABC O&Os back in the mid-’80s after running WLS, the ABC-owned station in Chicago, where he gave Oprah Winfrey her first talkshow.

Having led WNBC to No. 1 in New York for most of the period from 1996-2002, when he headed the station, “Swanson has great insight into how a major NBC station operates,” Carroll said.

Swanson has no illusions about what he calls “the slow, arduous process of turning around the ratings” of underperforming TV stations, particularly the ones owned by CBS.

“But Les Moonves has done a great job with the CBS primetime schedule,” Swanson said, which will provide higher-rated lead-ins to the 11 p.m. newscasts of the owned stations. Improved primetime ratings at the network also mean more people will see promotional spots for the schedules of the local stations.

Another positive for Carroll is the purchase of the most highly touted syndicated strip premiering this fall, King World’s “Oprah” spinoff “Dr. Phil,” by four major CBS stations: WCBS New York, KYW Philadelphia, WBZ Boston and KTVT Dallas. And just about all the CBS O&Os have bought another potentially successful fall rookie, Buena Vista TV’s syndicated version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” hosted by Meredith Vieira of “The View.”

Petitti had been VP and G.M. of WCBS since August 1999. Earlier in his career, Petitti spent six years as an exec at ABC Sports, working directly with Swanson as ABC Sports president.

The job that Swanson is taking became vacant when Ray Rajewski resigned a little over a month ago.

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