"Given the gravity of the charges against Mr. Jackson, we believe it would be inappropriate at this time to broadcast an entertainment special," the network said in a statement issued late Wednesday. The statement also said the network was "mindful that Mr. Jackson is innocent until proven guilty" and that CBS would "consider broadcasting the special after the due process of the legal system runs its course."
Media buying executives generally reacted positively to CBS' decision, calling it the prudent move, but said it nonetheless would fuel questions about the network's editorial autonomy because the move so quickly followed "The Reagans" debacle.
"They're somewhat tainted in that their editorial integrity has been called into question," said Bob Flood, director of national electronic media at Optimedia.
"They got 'Reagan-ed' again," said another buyer. "They've blinked again."
"Poor Les Moonves. He's stuck between a rock and a hard place again," sympathized Ray Warren, managing director of OMD, referring to the CBS chief's second controversial programming decision in the span of a few weeks. Warren, however, said this was likely the right move under the circumstances. "I think they have more of a license to move the Jackson special for all the right reasons. I think the Reagan situation was different. It just wasn't a well managed process."
One thing the buyers all agreed on, was that while the Jackson special likely would have generated a huge audience, few mainstream advertisers would have wanted to be associated with it.
And even though the special was intended to cap off CBS' November ratings sweeps plans, at least one analyst believes the decision will not hurt the network's chances of winning that race. The special was scheduled to air Nov. 26, the final night of the November sweeps, an anachronistic ratings process that has little impact on national advertisers, but is important for setting local market ratings.
"They were all set to win the sweeps and I don't think the absence of Michael Jackson will alter that," says Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming at Carat USA. "Even without it, CBS is a lock to win in households and total viewers."