CBS' tweaking of NBC an eye-opener

NEW YORK — CBS chairman Leslie Moonves wants some of NBC’s upfront ad dollars, and he wants to get them by reaching down NBC TV Group chief Jeff Zucker’s throat.

The Eye network has always delighted in jabbing at NBC, but CBS’ general success this season, combined with the GE-owned web’s diminished status in primetime, came across clear and a bit too loud during CBS’ upfront presentation Tuesday, as Moonves hammered home at NBC’s perceived weakness and the tens of millions that promises to throw into play.

More than the disgruntled CBS News writers who protested across the street from Carnegie Hall, the relentlessness of CBS’ assault detracted from an otherwise lavish showcase for a half-dozen new series that generally looked slick and potentially commercial. The underlying message, in fact — that despite the loss of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” CBS’ broad stability offers a good chance of sustaining its 2004-05 breakthroughs — at times seemed to take a back seat to the intramural barbs, not that it wasn’t repeated over and over again.

Using the occasion to trumpet every daypart, the network took its time getting to the primetime lineup, with the obligatory taped piece starring Moonves cleverly spoofing the film “Million Dollar Baby.” The exec also wryly noted that his 10th appearance at Carnegie Hall marked “a new record for a Jew without an instrument.”

As for the shows, CBS joins the week’s sci-fi/horror brigade with “Threshold” — slated for the same timeslot that birthed “The X-Files” — suggesting that ABC’s “Lost” has been the year’s most influential program development-wise, not the web’s higher-rated “Desperate Housewives.”

Exhibiting a commitment to showmanship, CBS trotted out Aretha Franklin at the afternoon’s conclusion to belt out “Respect,” but the recital of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” didn’t obscure that this was really all about “M-O-N-E-Y,” which is fine and dandy. That said, there has to be a more civilized way to skin a Peacock.

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