TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Giving Them What They Want

Giving Them What They Want

Monty Solomon (
Sun, 4 Sep 2005 01:02:09 -0400


After three decades in the TV business, Leslie Moonves, the chairman
of CBS and the person most responsible for taking the network from
last place to first in the ratings, has figured out a few things
about what people want to see when they turn on their televisions.
'Americans do not like dark,' Moonves told me last May, before a
scheduling meeting to select CBS's fall 2005 lineup.

Moonves, who was wearing a gray suit, white shirt and diagonally
striped maroon and navy tie, was in a wood-paneled corner office on
the 35th floor of Black Rock, the longtime home of CBS on 52nd Street
in Manhattan. The office used to belong to William S. Paley, the
legendary tycoon who personified CBS for more than 60 years. Truman
Capote once remarked that Paley 'looks like a man who has just
swallowed an entire human being,' and Moonves has that same sort of
aggressive vigor -- an almost palpable appetite and enthusiasm for the
complications and constant challenges of network TV.

On this particular Thursday, at 11 a.m., Moonves was considering which
of the network's current shows to cancel in order to make room for new
programs. He had decided to take a once-promising show called 'Joan of
Arcadia' off the air. The show was about a teenager who receives
directives and advice straight from God. 'In the beginning, it was a
fresh idea and uplifting, and the plot lines were engaging,' Moonves
said, sounding a little sad and frustrated. 'But the show got too
dark. I understand why creative people like dark, but American
audiences don't like dark. They like story. They do not respond to
nervous breakdowns and unhappy episodes that lead nowhere. They like
their characters to be a part of the action. They like strength, not
weakness, a chance to work out any dilemma. This is a country built on

One key to running a successful broadcast network is understanding
just this kind of thing: what the audience wants -- sometimes even
before it knows that it wants it. Like a candidate seeking election, a
network and its shows are voted into prominence by the public. The
people either tune in or they don't. Unlike the movie business or the
premium cable industry (of which HBO is emblematic), which charge for
their products and have much smaller, more homogeneous audiences,
broadcast TV aims to attract the tens of million of Americans who
might watch CBS (or ABC or NBC or Fox) on any given night. In recent
years, CBS shows like 'C.S.I.,' 'Survivor' and 'Everybody Loves
Raymond' have enticed those multitudes, and as a result the network
has soared in the ratings. Moonves said that he hopes to have another
success (or several) of that magnitude this coming season.

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