No Eye for cutbacks

Moonves says CBS won't trim prod'n fees

While most of the TV biz is crying poverty, CBS supremo Leslie Moonves says the Eye has no plans to start playing slash-and-burn when it comes to production budgets or license fees for new series.

“We are not suggesting the $500,000 license fee. That just doesn’t work,” Moonves said Thursday, referring to NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker’s stated goal of producing some low-cost dramas. “I don’t think you say to Aaron Sorkin or John Wells or Don Bellisario, ‘Here’s $500,000. Go do an hour.’ I don’t think the show you will end up with is a show you will like.”

Execs at NBC and ABC have been particularly vocal in recent months about the need to pare back spending or find different ways of doing business when it comes to program development. Several studios have also instituted across-the-board spending cuts or trimmed their rosters in an effort to save coin.

But Moonves, speaking with entertainment prexy Nancy Tellem at the CBS portion of the semiannual TV Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena, said the Eye has “not done a whole lot to reduce our production spending. We have kept (cutbacks) to a minimum.” CBS will make roughly the same number of pilots it did last year and has no plans to cut license fees on fall 2002 series; the same applies to actor salaries, though Moonves said the net is no longer making huge series commitments or holding deals for thesps.

“At the end of the day, I’d rather spend $50,000 more on a hit than cut back and miss out on that one element that makes a show go,” Moonves said.

The CBS honcho opened his appearance at the press tour by touting the Eye’s 2001-02 performance, particularly the net’s status as the most-watched web and its gains with younger viewers.

Touting demo perf

“We are the only network this season up vs. last year in households, viewers, adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54,” Moonves said. “Other people may come up either before us or after us and tell you what a great job they’ve done and how successful they’ve been. (But) if you’re down in every single demo, if you’re down in households, if you’re down in viewers, to me, that’s not being successful.”

He also noted that for the third year in a row, CBS has the top-rated new drama on television with “The Guardian,” which follows in the footsteps of “CSI” and “Judging Amy.”

Moonves had little to say about his new status as head of UPN, arguing it was too early to make any announcements about possible management changes at the weblet.

“We see synergies there,” he said. “We see opportunities to work together.”

Hoops on UPN?

One possibility: CBS could air early rounds of NCAA tournament games on UPN, though that’s unlikely to happen soon.

Some industry insiders have suggested that Moonves may try to back away from his hands-on approach to development as he continues to increase his Viacom responsibilities. Moonves said that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

“It’s hard for me to pull back,” he said. “I’d like to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to be sitting up in the ivory tower making these overall decisions, but you’ll see me in casting sessions on the ‘CSI’ spinoff. I’ll be there, and that’s who I am.”

Except to confirm its existence, Tellem offered no further details of the “CSI” spinoff (Daily Variety, Jan. 9).

Committed to ‘Ellen’

Tellem and Moonves said they’re still sticking by “The Ellen Show,” which has so far struggled on Fridays despite performing decently on Mondays. Skein may still get a few more Monday tests.

“We’re very much committed to the show,” Tellem said. DeGeneres is “extraordinarily talented. We want to hang in there with that show.”

Elsewhere at the CBS portion of the TCA press tour:

  • The next edition of “Survivor” will bow Feb. 28.

  • Moonves said CBS has no plans to begin airing ads for liquor, though he didn’t rule out the possibility of doing so in the future.

  • There’s a good chance CBS will air a third edition of “Big Brother” this summer. The next “Amazing Race,” however, will airing during the regular season next fall.

  • Look for more retro-themed specials on CBS in coming months in the wake of November’s successful “I Love Lucy” and Carol Burnett clipfests. CBS is discussing several ideas for new Burnett specials.

  • CBS won’t stunt opposite NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage. Net will air a mix of repeats, theatricals and an original mini.

  • Moonves said he’s still hopeful Sunday’s “The Education of Max Bickford” will return next fall, despite weak early ratings. “Don’t be surprised if you see it Sundays at 8 next fall,” he said.

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