Variety editorial

CBS chief Leslie Moonves’ message to TV critics at the TCA’s summer press tour was refreshingly blunt: “It’s the programming, stupid.”

It’s a message that TV execs should take seriously at a time when the accountability of network and cable programmers is being questioned, ratings are eroding and scripted skeins are giving way to a glut of mindless reality programming,

But nobody appears to be listening.

The big stories at TCA came from the turf wars among various webheads.

NBC chief Jeff Zucker ripped Fox for stealing its unscripted boxing series “The Contender.” ABC attacked Fox for stealing its unscripted sociological experiment skein “Wife Swap.” Fox’s Mike Darnell told TV writers his first goal is to have a hit, but acknowledged it’s a bonus if he can undermine the other webs.

These barbs were an amusing sideshow. They also served as a big distraction from the underlying problem at TCA: Critics and auds are losing faith in TV producers and execs.

When Zucker wasn’t bashing Fox, he was singing the praises of the Peacock’s new shows. Along the way, he casually mentioned that he knew all along that “Coupling,” a show he had hyped to the hilt last summer, was a flop. Why, asked one writer, should they believe him this year?

WB CEO Garth Ancier made an even bigger gaffe. Asked about obscure plot points on “Smallville,” he betrayed at best a casual familiarity with the show’s storylines, at one point referring to Clark Kent’s alter ego, Kal-El, as “Jaleel.”

All this infighting and disingenuous hype comes at a bad moment for TV execs, when programmers’ top priority should be forging a firmer connection to a fragmenting and easily distractedviewership.

That connection appears to be badly frayed. Can it be repaired?

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