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Inside Politics

10 questions for Les Moonves


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For the past couple of weeks, CBS television president Les Moonves has been the man in the hot seat.

After a conservative outcry, he abruptly canceled a mini-series about Ronald Reagan, only to draw fire from liberals complaining that he caved in to pressure. Moonves talked with TIME's Richard Zoglin about the episode—and some of the season's better news.

It's frankly hard to believe all the protests didn't influence your decision to cancel the Reagan mini-series. Did they play a role? They didn't. We had promised the public we would do a balanced version of Reagan's life, that it would have warts, that it would show the good and the bad. Upon looking at the rough cut, I felt the movie was somewhat one-sided and it wasn't the movie I promised the public. The easier call would have to been to stick with it and put it on CBS. I felt I couldn't do that, and I made a moral decision not to do it.

If it's too biased for CBS, why is it O.K. for Showtime? When somebody's paying $30 a month, that's their decision. On a network, there's a public trust to it. There are some things that as networks we need to be balanced about. A cable network can be a bit more one-sided and do an opinion piece. It is much more difficult for a network to do that.

Why didn't you realize the problems with the film earlier?

I know people sometimes think I'm Superman, reading every script. The truth is, I read virtually none. I don't look at dailies anymore. I did not get a glimpse of the movie until it was put together. It wasn't until the rough cut that you get hit with what the piece is about.

The overall network audience is down 9% so far this season. But CBS's ratings are pretty good. Would you like to brag? We are extremely pleased. We just finished the first week in sweeps, and we're up double digits.

But how do you account for the big overall drop? Well, the big drop is in 18-to-34- year-old men. Obviously, cable is trying to take credit for taking some of that away. In addition, there have been some questions about some Nielsen (ratings) inaccuracies in that demographic. To have double-digit losses in 18-to-34-year-old men has never happened in the history of television.

How long before there are as many CSIs on TV as there are Law & Orders? There is no question that we are talking about a third CSI. The show just keeps getting bigger and bigger. We don't want to spread ourselves too thin. But we are definitely going to have another one before too long.

Your canceled series The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire—what were you thinking? (Laughs) Look, when you are putting together a fall schedule, you have 22 hours of programming. Some of them are fastballs down the middle. Brotherhood of Poland we felt was quirky. It was unusual, the writing was terrific, terrific cast. We thought, all right, let's take a shot here. It's a little bit of a Hail Mary pass, but we took it. I'm happy we did. It didn't work. No great surprise.

Are we going to see some younger faces on 60 Minutes next season? I don't think you are going to see wholesale changes. Needless to say, Mike Wallace is not able to do as many stories as he used to. And there may be some additions to the company. But we still feel that even though they are a little bit older, they are still the best team in town.

NBC Entertainment Chief Jeff Zucker says the late-night war is over: Leno has won. Do you agree? NBC has done a wonderful P.R. job. They are pushing the late-night story because in the prime-time story, CBS is doing a lot better than they are. Look, Jay Leno is doing very well. So is David Letterman. This week Dave's numbers are way up. Obviously helped by the birth of his baby.

So are you going to tell Dave to have another baby? I want Dave to have a baby once a year. I think it will help his ratings a lot. We at CBS have welcomed Harry into the world.

Copyright © 2003 Time Inc.

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