TCA: CBS CEO Les Moonves Talks ‘Big Brother,’ Netflix, Bob Greenblatt Comments

Moonves quick respond to Greenblatt, noting CBS is no 'bastard child' in entertainment

Les Moonves CBS Upfront
Brian To/FilmMagic

CBS CEO Les Moonves addressed the recent controversy surrounding “Big Brother” early on at the network’s TCA exec session, calling the racist and homophobic remarks aired on the reality skein “absolutely appalling.”

“What you see there is unfortunately reflective of what certain people feel in America,” the chief stated. “Obviously a lot of it makes us feel uncomfortable.”

He later added: “You don’t want wallflowers on reality shows. Does that lead to controversy? Absolutely.”

Overall, Moonves believes the network is handling the remarks “appropriately,” noting that CBS “did not comment on some of the racial things that were happening until it really affected what was going on in the household.”

Moonves, who subbed in for prez Nina Tassler at the exec sesh after personal circumstances barred her from attending the confab, remarked numerous times about Netflix and Amazon’s role in the changing media landscape, and emphasized that the Eye was “one of the first to do a deal with Netflix.” Currently, CBS has a deal with Amazon where episodes of the recently renewed “Under the Dome” roll out on the streaming platform just four days after their broadcast on the network. While Amazon has not disclosed viewership numbers of “Dome” to CBS, Moonves said he ran into Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently in Sun Valley and that the exec remarked on how “pleased” the site is with “Dome’s” success.

Some Internet commenters have already groaned about “Dome’s” renewal for another summer run, stating that the Stephen King drama appeared to have an end squarely in sight before CBS offered it a new episode order. Moonves noted, however, that a show like “Under the Dome” or forthcoming drama “Hostages” is not limited by its concept when it comes to having substantial, multi-season runs on the network.

“We didn’t put ‘Hostages’ on to only have 15 episodes,” Moonves said to the journos packed in the Beverly Hilton ballroom. “And ‘Under the Dome’ is in a lot of ways a soap opera… Why can’t there be more ‘Under the Dome’?”

“Under the Dome” has produced strong ratings returns for the Eye, but, as Bob Greenblatt noted during NBC’s exec session, it’s difficult for any broadcast network to gain serious traction in overall viewership given the evolution of TV viewing habits and the emergence of competitive digital platforms. Greenblatt even stated that “flat is the new up” when it comes to ratings. Moonves, however, had different sentiments.

“I don’t agree with that statement [from Greenblatt],” the CEO remarked. “We’re confident we’re going to be up this year. And I don’t think we’re the ‘bastard child’ of TV,” as Greenblatt had referred to the Big Four during his TCA conference.

“When you look at the totality of it, the numbers can be as big [as they were in the past],” Moonves noted. “They’re just coming from different places… The model is never dead. It’s just changing.” The CEO also said the “beginning of the end” for NBC arrived when the Peacock was unable to find a hit to replace “Friends” after it went off the air.

Moonves drew comparisons between broadcast and cable throughout his session, noting that the biz models for CBS versus Eye-owned pay TV net Showtime are very distinct and profitable in their own way. He sees Netflix and Amazon as integral to the success of cable dramas since the platforms help building followings for programs, and hopes to see that success translate to more heavily serialized, small-batch CBS dramas in the future.

“I’m sure ‘Hostages’ will appear on Netflix and Amazon so people can catch up,” he said.

When it comes to Emmy nominations, however, in which CBS was not strongly represented this year, Moonves thinks “the broadcast nets don’t get respect.”

“They’re competing against some phenomenal cable programs. It’s hard to put ‘The Good Wife’ up against ‘Game of Thrones,’ ” which Moonves, a ‘Thrones’ fan himself, reminded journos it costs “three times as much to make” when compared to broadcast skeins. “The cable shows get a lot of attention for fewer numbers.”

When thrown a tough question about the profitability of the CW, Moonves admitted that as a network, the CW loses money, but that the shows produced by CBS and Warner Bros. bring in more revenue to make up for the losses, so the value is still present in the youth-skewing net.