Beverly Hills, CA -- CBS Corp. president and chief executive officer Leslie Moonves, whose sessions with the press beginning in the mid-Nineties were always among the most eagerly anticipated events at Winter and Summer Television Critics Association tours, and who hasn't appeared on a TCA stage in years, brought the Summer 2013 tour excitingly to life yesterday morning when he filled in at the last minute for CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler, who had been called away on a personal matter.
Moonves began by announcing a second season renewal for CBS' summer success "Under the Dome," adding that Stephen King, on whose novel the series is based, will write its first episode. Moonves declared that "Dome" has "changed the face of summer television."
"Dome" is in many ways shaping up to be one of the summer's most interesting television stories and one that is representative of how the financial model for primetime programming continues to change. "Obviously, the whole model for putting on a big summer show is hard," Moonves said. "How do you figure out financially how to put on a show of that size and that scale? It came down to two components, really. The network license fee, by definition, in the summer has to be small," he explained, adding that "huge" international sales of the show and an arrangement with Amazon made it happen.
"We had to make a deal unlike any we've ever made, where [Amazon] got [episodes of] the show four days [after they premiered on CBS]," Moonves explained. "They have not revealed what their numbers are. All I can tell you is when I ran into [Amazon founder and chief executive officer] Jeff Bezos in Sun Valley, he literally sought me out to tell me how proud he was of 'Under the Dome' and what a great show it was. So it was really nice to hear from him directly on that. I know they're very pleased with the results, and we expect to, hopefully, continue on with them in the future. It's been a great new model, and they've been a great partner."
"Dome" and CBS' new fall limited series "Hostages" are very much at the center of all the talk at this tour about the resurgence of mini-series, shorter seasons of ongoing series, broadcast's adaptation of basic cable models and such. Even if it all feels somewhat familiar, at least to those of us who remember television in the Seventies and Eighties, when mini-series were huge, it all represents a new willingness by the broadcasters to try different things, whether out of desperation or simply as an acknowledgement of what may be working elsewhere. "'Hostages' wouldn't have gone on our network three years ago," Moonves asserted. "But by the same token, I don't want five 'Hostages.' Well, talk to me in January; Maybe we will [want more] depending on the ratings. But, you know, it's stepping out for us. It's doing something different. When it achieves the level of the 'NCIS's' or more of our traditional shows, then the world will have changed."
"Dome" may not have reached the "NCIS" level, but has attracted more viewers than mere Nielsen ratings might suggest. The premiere episode was watched by 13.7 million people, Moonves said. "Between DVR, video on demand, and streaming -- this is not including Amazon -- that number increased to over 20 million viewers. That is drastically different than it ever was before. So when you look at the totality of it, you're saying, okay, the numbers can be as big. They're just coming from different places. Everything is not quite being counted yet, although Nielsen is trying to get there.
"Since I've been in the network television business, which is over 30 years, people have been saying, 'Oh, the model is dead.' The model has never been dead. It's just evolving."
Asked about the controversy swirling around the racist and sexist comments made by some of the houseguests in this summer's edition of "Big Brother," Moonves noted that the network has always referred to it as a "social experiment," a description that has never been more on point during the series' 14 previous cycles as it is right now. "Clearly that's what's happening this year," he said. "I find some of the behavior absolutely appalling, personally. What you see there, I think it, unfortunately, is reflective of how certain people feel in America. It's what our show is. I think we've handled it properly. A lot of it makes us uncomfortable.
"I've watched every episode of the show," Moonves continued. "Obviously, my wife ["Big Brother" host Julie Chen] would kill me if I didn't. So, I do know what's going on there. We do discuss it quite a bit. I think we are handling it appropriately. We did not comment on some of the racial things being said until it really affected what was going on in the household."
Asked to reveal the details of his conversations with Chen, Moonves replied, "I'm not going to tell you what goes on in my home." That was the sort of non-response to a legitimate question that might have aggravated TCA members coming from a different executive, but not from Moonves. Instead, polite laughter filled the room.
Interestingly, as busy as he is running CBS Corp., Moonves still gets involved in the casting of his network's reality series, if not in the early stages. "I sort of have the final look at who's going in and choosing the right combination," he said. Might everyone involved in the casting of those shows be trying a little too hard to find "out there" personalities, he was asked, resulting in the kind of offensive content darkening "Big Brother" this summer?
"Obviously, you don't want wallflowers on reality shows," Moonves replied. "You're going to take people that are interesting. You know, sometimes that leads to controversy. Look, I remember ["Survivor"] in year one. Richard Hatch, the first winner of 'Survivor,' [was] openly gay, and onto the island comes Rudy, the 70-year-old Marine, who wasn't used to dealing with homosexuals at all. We said, 'What an interesting thing.' Now, these two guys became good friends on the island, and so they are social experiments. Trying too hard? I don't think there's any such thing."
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