Make no mistake: CBS execs Sunday said they’re fed up with TV’s contract renegotiation tango.
In his first major news conference since being elevated to Viacom co-prexy/co-chief operating officer, Eye topper Leslie Moonves left little doubt that he and CBS Entertainment prexy Nancy Tellem had tired of the annual salary dance, in which thesps seeking more coin often call in sick to make a point.
Issue has come to a head in recent days following the Eye’s decision to ax “CSI” co-stars George Eads and Jorja Fox (Daily Variety, July 16). Speculation over the weekend was that Fox may yet be allowed to return to the show, but at least on Sunday, CBS seemed intent on drawing a line in the sand.
“This behavior has to stop,” Moonves told reporters following his formal Q&A session at the Eye’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour. “The lawyers and the agents and the managers have to understand: If (the broadcast nets) are going to be in business a long time, things need to change.”
Moonves didn’t rule out giving raises to actors on hit shows, even if the Eye isn’t contractually obligated to do so. In the case of “CSI,” for example, thesps got bumps after season two of the show and were offered raises for the upcoming season, exec said.
But “a contract’s a contract,” Moonves said. “A deal’s a deal. There comes a point where we all have to look out for the future of the network television business. It’s no secret that four of the six television networks lost money last year. We are one of the two that didn’t. NBC is the other one.”
Exec alluded to “certain veiled threats” from Eads’ and Fox’s reps about the actors “not showing up”; Moonves suggested those threats led to the thesps’ dismissal. Both Moonves and Tellem seemed to indicate that asking for more coin is acceptable; threatening not to show up for work, on the other hand, is not.
“A renegotiation without threats always works better for us,” Moonves said.
Moonves noted that CBS isn’t able to tell actors four months into a contract that their services are no longer wanted — and then decline to pay out the rest of the contract. By not showing up to work, or not returning a letter promising to keep working during a renegotiation, Eads and Fox essentially said, “They don’t want to work for us anymore,” Moonves said.
While series stars William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger are both understood to be seeking more coin as well, as of now neither has opted to skip work to make a point. Production will be halted on “CSI” next week in order to sort out the casting situation on the show.
Supported by thesp
Moonves got some support on the matter from Carmine Giovinazzo, one of the new stars of “CSI: NY.”
“I would shine Leslie Moonves’ shoes and be his caddy if I was making the money they were,” thesp said Sunday.
At times relaxed, at times feisty — and, on occasion, even playful — Moonves began his session boasting of the Eye’s strong summer perf with a schedule dominated by repeats. Net has eight of the top 10 shows in both viewers and adults 18-49, he said.
“If I hear another word about the ‘geezer network,’ I’m coming after you. And that includes Jeff Zucker,” Moonves said.
Moonves said he understood Fox’s decision to program fresh fare in the summer, noting Fox’s need to “find a new way to do business.”
Nonetheless, “It doesn’t matter when you put a show on,” he said. “It only matters if viewers want to watch it.”
As he settles into his new corporate role at Viacom, Moonves indicated he may finally have to loosen his grip on CBS ever so slightly.
“I like to micromanage, and I’m going to try to do a little bit less of that,” Moonves said. “My staff is applauding (and waiting to see) if I can pull it off.”
Moonves said he’s still examining how CBS and Paramount Network Television will work together now that both orgs are under his wing and that he hasn’t “decided on any personnel changes.”
On other issues:
- Moonves strongly denounced the FCC’s decision to fine CBS and its owned stations over the Janet Jackson Super Bowl mishap. “We think it’s grossly unfair that anyone be fined for it (and) we’re not going to stand for it,” he said, indicating Viacom will go to court to fight the matter if the fine stands.
Exec also said Infinity has begun talking to Howard Stern about a new contract, even though Stern has said he plans to quit when his deal expires.
- With “The Reagans” controversy over, CBS movies and mini chief Bela Bajaria is working out a new deal to stay with the network, execs confirmed. Under Bajaria, CBS Sunday telepic slate generated solid ratings year, helping CBS improve its Sunday standing.
Tellem said the Eye remains committed to longform, even as other nets have cut back on telepics. “It’s a very, very important genre for us,” she said.
- Moonves said he’s been watching with interest as NBC and ABC trade barbs with Fox over the issue of reality show “theft.”
“We’ve been taking out the popcorn and enjoying the fight,” Moonves quipped. “I hope they all kill each other.”
Moonves noted that CBS lost its attempt to prove in court that ABC’s “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” was a “Survivor” clone. “Once the court said we didn’t have a case, it was the wild, wild West,” he said.
While not happy about the reality copycatting, Moonves said he doesn’t see any value in getting worked up over the issue.
“He who is without sin … whatever that thing is,” Moonves said, making light of the entire situation. “It’s not a clean game that’s played here. Those who are faint of heart should find another line of work.”
- Exec praised Dick Wolf as “one of the greatest producers in the history of the medium” but said Wolf’s recent jabs at the “CSI” franchise indicate “he’s getting a little concerned” about the mothership “L&O’s” looming battle with “CSI: NY.” Both skeins will air Wednesdays at 10.
While predicting “L&O” will win the timeslot battle, Moonves said “CSI: NY” will do “better than we’ve done in decades” in the timeslot.
- Tellem said CBS would stick to a traditional premiere week rollout, launching most of its new shows the week of Sept. 20. Exceptions: “Survivor” starts Sept. 16, while the new Tuesday lineup premieres Sept. 28. “Clubhouse” gets a sneak preview Sunday, Sept. 26, in the “Cold Case” slot, while the latter skein begins its second season Oct. 3.