Donning hat of skedder and buyer

Certain pundits have likened fixing a primetime network schedule to changing the wheels on a moving car.

If so, the industry is going to discover just how good a mechanic Leslie Moonves is.

Moonves, 45, once dubbed “the mayor of primetime” based on his prolific tenure as president of Warner Bros. TV, was last week named president of CBS Entertainment and exec VP of the CBS/Broadcast Group, prompting the resignation of Peter Tortorici after just 14 months in the entertainment hot seat.

Tall order

Having already established himself as the industry’s premiere seller – not only in terms of volume, with last year’s hits “ER” and “Friends” as a calling card – Moonves will now wear the hat of buyer, scheduler and in no small part morale-booster of a network that has been shell-shocked by negative press and executive turnover.

Observers actually see the job as a no-lose situation for Moonves: CBS can’t be expected to turn around overnight, and any gains achieved in the short term (even with Tortorici’s left-over development) will make him look good. That’s essentially the scenario that played out when Jeff Saganksy took the job in December 1989.

Because of the timing of his arrival, the exec probably has at least 18 months before he can legitimately put his stamp on the entire primetime lineup, though CBS’ midseason orders will be watched closely, and it wouldn’t be unprecedented for the exec to tinker with the schedule before it premieres.

Friendly rivals

One interesting side aspect to Moonves’ position at CBS is that it puts him in direct competition with ABC’s Ted Harbert and NBC’s Don Ohlmeyer (a past poker buddy) and Warren Littlefield, all close friends, as are many of the hundreds who attend the lavish party the exec annually hosts at his Brentwood estate the weekend of the Primetime Emmy Awards.

The one-time actor has developed a reputation for attracting top creative talent and hopes to be a magnet for marquee players at CBS.

Fiercely competitive, Moonves acknowledged that it would have been safe to stay at Warner Bros. but that he couldn’t resist the prospects of a new challenge. After placing 20 shows on the primetime schedule for fall, he noted, “You have to ask, ‘How much more can I do here?'”

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