Commentary

Reality Bites for CBS

CBS won the first week of the season. But don't break out the champagne yet. Not for CBS or for its sister Viacom companies - there is still crime scene work to do.

CBS enjoyed its first week of the new season -- especially on Thursday where it flattened NBC's "Joey" and "The Apprentice" with its "Survivor" and "C.S.I." tag team. If that wasn't enough, NBC's longtime leader "Law & Order" was devoured by the new "C.S.I.: New York" on Wednesday.

Still, CBS is in a humble mode. No dancing in the end zone yet. CBS has to deal with a big $550,000 fine leveled on its stations for showing Janet Jackson's right breast. Another black eye occurred when a Texas official went sour and CBS anchor Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes for "60 Minutes II" ran the segment about Pres. Bush.

But almost unnoticed are other aspects of the Viacom family. CBS's sister network, UPN had a soft opening week for its big returning show, "America's Next Top Model, " as well as for new drama "Veronica Mars." Even its Monday night comedy block didn't do well. Overall, the network was down 13 percent for its key adults 18 to 34 demographic.

That's not all. During the Merrill Lynch Media and Entertainment Conference in Pasadena, Calif. yesterday, Les Moonves, co-president and CEO of Viacom noted the company's radio business, Infinity Broadcasting, is struggling to gain advertising revenues. Viacom said improvements need to be made in marketing and programming.

If that is not enough, MTV may be a tad weak as well. The flagship music and young lifestyle network is down 4 percent to 1,034,000 average viewers in primetime for the third quarter versus the same period a year ago. (Aren't cable network supposed to thrive in the summer - especially young skewing networks such as MTV?)

Well, the metaphor in all of this is that a new season of "Real World" -- the original reality show - has started up again for MTV in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.

If ratings and revenue improve, MTV and other Viacom companies will almost assuredly get plenty of real love. And if it goes the other way, they'll just get the love of reality.

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