CBS Braces For Writers' Strike

PASADENA, CALIF.--CBS is bracing for a possible writers' strike later this year.

Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group, said if the Writers Guild of America stages a fall walkout, her network is prepared. Speaking Thursday at a CBS executive panel session at the Television Critics Association meeting, she said the net is confident it will fill out the schedule. "We are looking at a library of movies, we are looking at reality--at the shows we have," she said.

A number of other networks and studios have been stockpiling scripts in an effort to thwart a possible shortage of prime-time material. CBS isn't adopting this strategy.

"If you look at what happened with the last strike, all the networks' schedules were filled with movies, reality shows and magazines," said Tellem. "At the end of the day, it impacted the writers in a horrible way. What we hope is that we will get to the table. We haven't yet. The hope is that we will reach an agreement. We would be foolish to say we are not preparing."



During the executive session at the TCA, CBS executives fielded questions about the different ways of scheduling new programming, such as the network's new serialized hit, "Jericho." It went off the air in November, but returns later this month. To fill the void, CBS has built out much of its Internet-related "Jericho" content to tide viewers over until new episodes are scheduled. But critics wondered if too much time has lapsed.

"We looked at other networks, we read viewer mail, and we thought we were better to schedule it in essentially two blocks, two chunks," said Kelly Kahl, senior executive vice president of programming operations at CBS. "The online [content] was just a nice kicker."

This tactic goes against CBS' typical strategy of re-airing its prime-time shows. Many CBS shows are self-contained crime-procedural dramas that the network has had success in re-airing. But re-airing episodes of serialized dramas makes it tougher for nets to bring in new viewers, since they aren't familiar with the background story or plot lines.

"We are looking for a balance on the schedule," said Kahl. "If you have too many serials, then in the repeat cycle, you have no numbers at all."

Regarding the new season of Fox's "American Idol"--and its major impact on ratings--CBS isn't running away from the still hot show. CBS fared well on Tuesday night, the show's debut. It did better than most networks with "NCIS" and "The Unit."

"These shows are not "Idol"-proof, they are just "Idol"-resistant,'" said Kahl. He noted that "NCIS" did 95% of what it usually does, "where everyone else got vaporized."

Concerning the viability of the "CSI" franchise, Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, said there is no plan to roll out other series set in different cities. She also noted that "when you look at the growth of [CSI:] Miami' and [CSI:] New York, they have a long future."

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