CBS CEO, Les Moonves, seems to be programming the network for his boss, CBS and Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, who is 84 and will turn 85 in May. CBS has the oldest demographics of any of the five networks and one of its top-rated shows, “60 Minutes” looks like it’s in a wheelchair.
“60 Minutes” is the longest running prime time program on television. This year it will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a group of five regular reporters whose average age is 64. If you include 89-year-old Andy Rooney, the average age jumps to 68. Occasionally Katie Couric, 51, appears, which brings down the average, but so does Mike Wallace, 90, who shoots it back up.
Remember the two old geezers who regularly appeared in “The Muppet Show” and how they’d cackle with decrepit delight at some stupid joke? Can’t you see in your mind’s eye the 84-year-old Redstone cackling as he’s watching the 89-year-old Rooney wheeze through a silly commentary and then calling up Moonves and saying, “That was really funny. Don’t take ’60 Minutes’ off the air.”
And you know that Redstone and Moonves talk regularly. During the Imus flap last year, Moonves and CBS, the owner of WFAN-AM on which Imus appeared, hesitated to take any action after Imus made his insensitive remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Redstone called Moonves and he fired Imus immediately after the call. It was clear who was calling the shots then and, certainly, is now.
It’s been widely reported that network television ratings are down for the current 2007-2008 season, a trend that began at the beginning of the season and has accelerated during the writer’s strike. FOX’s megahit “American Idol” made its season debut in January and immediately shot to the top of regular programming (The NFL Playoffs were the only programs to beat it), and the show will probably assure FOX another season prime time win.
“60 Minutes” and “American Idol” are contrasting mirror images of what’s happening to American broadcast network television: 1) News and news-related programming is attracting only older, declining audiences, and efforts to lower the demographics by hiring cute anchors like Katie Couric aren’t working; and 2) The future of network television is live sports and pop-culture entertainment programming that co-ops DVRs – in other words live events in which the goal of viewing is to find out who wins, after which viewing becomes less urgent.
So by keeping “60 Minutes,” Les Moonves might well save his job, but he’s not going to save CBS or network television from their inevitable audience erosion and migration to the Web. Redstone wouldn’t like it, but Moonves probably ought to move “60 Minutes” to the Web as weekly blog on the Huffington Post, which has twice as many monthly unique visitors as CBS.com and probably about as big an 18-49 year-old audience as “60 Minutes” on television does.