CBS Corp. President and CEO Leslie Moonves this afternoon addressed what went down with Charlie Sheen on the CBS hit Two and a Half Men earlier this year by issuing this easily-understandable two-word assessment: “Shit happens.” Featured in conversation at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society Newsmaker Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Moonves elaborated that what happened to the show was “unfortunate” and “wasn’t fun. There’s no good when there are lawyers involved with a television show.” But he is encouraged to find that Men’s ratings are up from what they were a year ago with Ashton Kutcher having replaced Sheen in the cast. He added, “I’m happy that Charlie has a show with a very good showrunner and a very good studio in Lionsgate. We wish him well. We’re more than happy with how well Ashton has done other than his comments about Penn State (condemning via Twitter the firing of head coach Joe Paterno). But I’m glad (Two and a Half Men) is a chapter that’s closing, and with these numbers I’m hoping this show will last for many, many years.” Moonves wouldn’t commit, however, to a multi-year renewal of the show going forward.
As is his optimistic style, Moonves was most comfortable being a cheerleader for network television during his hour-long chat with Daily Variety’s Brian Lowry. “I still believe in the power of network TV,” he said. “I talk to the advertisers all the time, and there’s something we give the audience that can’t be done by cable. By the way, there’s fabulous work being done on cable. But look at the numbers. Mad Men is a spectacular show, I love it, it’s won something like the last 19 Emmy Awards. But it’s watched by 10% of the (viewing audience) who watch NCIS…I mean, AMC is a great place, but it’s just a different ballgame.”
That ballgame, Moonves maintained, remains the biggest in town despite all of the predictions he hears of imminent doom and gloom. “The news is always dire for the network,” he stressed. “I’ve heard since I’ve been in this business that the networks are dying, the networks are dead, technology is going to overwhelm us. And frankly that hasn’t happened. In every instance, technology has been a friend to the content business.” He also took the opportunity to point out that CBS is doing particularly well despite the perception with some advertisers that it may be more vulnerable due to its older viewer base. “Of all the major media corporations, we’re the one that gets the highest percentage of our revenue from advertisers. The good news is that despite analysts trying to say that advertising is slowing down and there’s a weakening in the economy, we’re not seeing that in network advertising. It remains strong.”
When it was pointed out that ABC, NBC and even Fox are creeping ever closer to CBS’ demographic base aged 50-plus, Moonves reiterated that he’s always seen the slavish reverence of Madison Avenue for the 18-49 demo as highly flawed. “Just basing the world on 18-49 is an untrue measure,” he emphasized. “I keep seeing it said in the press and from analysts that it’s the only demographic that matters to advertisers. We don’t sell our schedule solely on 18-49. We sell it all sorts of different ways…Baby Boomers have gotten older. But our attitude is that a big hit — even a big 18-49 hit — is watched by everybody. So the idea of a broadcaster programming just for a niche audience is silly.”
When the subject turned to CBS Films and its success or lack of it) to date — with none of its five film releases (Extraordinary Measures, The Back-Up Plan, Faster, The Mechanic and Beastly) having found any kind of traction — Moonves admitted, “None of our movies will be nominated for Academy Awards to the best of my knowledge. The TV business is much better than the movie business.” But he added that he believes, “There’s a way to do it better.”