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Leslie Moonves Talks ‘Big Bang Theory’ Spinoff, Series Orders for Next Season

Leslie Moonves has given a big vote of confidence to the freshman shows on CBS’ lineup and the spinoff of “The Big Bang Theory” in the works.

The CBS chairman-CEO predicted that the network will return five or six of the new series introduced this season during his Tuesday morning Q&A at the Deutsche Bank Media and Telecom conference in Palm Beach, Fla. He hailed the CBS programming team’s “extraordinary batting average.”

Out of the 17 pilots ordered for next season, Moonves predicted the Eye will pickup four new series — two comedies and two dramas — although he emphasized that could change depending on how the completed pilots come in.

Moonves didn’t cite specific titles other than to give a thumbs-up to the “Big Bang” spinoff he called “Little Sheldon.” The Warner Bros. TV comedy revolves around the childhood of the “Big Bang Theory” character Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons.

“Picture him as a 10-year-old boy growing up in Texas in a very right-wing family that is not used to having a 10-year-old genius living in their midst,” Moonves said, calling it a “terrific script” from “Big Bang” showrunner Steven Molaro. “That will be the show probably on right after ‘Big Bang.'”

Moonves said CBS was on the “two-yard line” for closing a deal for a two-season renewal of “Big Bang.” “I suspect you will hear news about that fairly shortly,” he said. Warner Bros. TV is in the process of negotiating deals with the final two core cast members, Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch.

During the wide-ranging Q&A, Moonves spoke of CBS’ interest in expanding its content production capabilities, possibly through acquisitions. When pressed by Deutsche Bank analyst Bryan Kraft whether Moonves had his eye on specific targets that are up for sale, the CBS chief replied: “things happen.”

“The AT&T [Time Warner merger agreement] was very instructive to all of us — especially for those of us who own a content company,” Moonves said. “We’re sitting in a very good position.”

Among other highlights from the 45-minute discussion:

Late-night: Moonves touted the recent growth spurt of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” which has overtaken NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in total viewership during the past month as Colbert has emphasized political humor with a hard-edge. “People want to see social commentary at the end of the night. They don’t want to see fun and games. There’s a lot going on every single day,” Moonves said. In the two years since Colbert and “The Late Late Show with James Corden” replaced David Letterman and Craig Ferguson on CBS’ schedule, the late-night daypart has become a “major, major profit center whereas before it wasn’t,” he said.

Upfront: Moonves predicts this year will see another strong upfront selling season for TV networks, building on last year’s momentum. He expects CBS will sell more multiplatform packages and cut more deals based on C7 ratings rather than the shorter C3 viewing time frame. “People are watching television in very different ways,” he said. “It’s important that we get paid for all of that.” He sees some digital advertising dollars shifting back to traditional TV as marketers recognize the need for mass reach and struggle with credibility concerns on some digital platforms. “Digital is sexy, digital is cool, digital is important,” he said. “If you want to sell a car you’d better go on ‘NCIS’ which is watched by 20 million people. That’s how you sell a car.”

Skinny bundles: Moonves said the new breed of channel distributors are paying more, not less, for the right to carry CBS. “That bodes really well for our future,” he said. CBS is hoping to handle more negotiations with emerging virtual MVPDs on behalf of its entire affiliate body. “They will all do better,” he said. CBS’ affiliate relations are strong thanks to the partnership established through the CBS All Access SVOD service in which local stations get a cut of revenue in exchange for carriage of their live signals. Moonves said 95% of the Eye’s 200-plus affiliate stations participate in CBS All Access.

“Thursday Night Football”: Given the chance, CBS will renew its “Thursday Night Football” package with the NFL even though the games are split with NBC and shared with cable’s NFL Network. The five Thursday games lose a little bit of money, Moonves said but the benefits to having the football on CBS’ mid-week schedule outweigh those costs.

Simon & Schuster: Moonves was pressed about whether CBS is considering a spinoff of its publishing arm, following the divestiture of CBS Outdoor and the pending sale of CBS Radio to Entercom. The answer was a clear “no.” “I like the asset,” Moonves said, noting that Simon & Schuster delivers a 10% margin and is not dependent on volatile advertising-based revenue streams. “We’re small enough — we’re not going to get any smaller,” he said. Moreover, “It’s prestigious. I like to say Ernest Hemingway works for me,” he joked.

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