Look for late night to be the next competitive area in original network programming.
The loud and clear message on the opening day of CBS' press preview sessions here Thursday at the Arizona Biltmore was that the No. 1-rated network is exploring the 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. weekday slot as a time for original programming and increased viewership.
CBS Entertainment President B. Donald (Bud) Grant also told the press that new programs would be developed for the summer pending the results of its experiment with several limited series in August.
Questioned about CBS' decision to pick up the police series "T.J. Hooker" for its late-night schedule after ABC had dropped it from prime time, Grant said that one of the network's goals is "to begin the process of developing late-night series."
"T.J. Hooker" will bring 17 new and 73 already-seen one-hour episodes to CBS' 11:30 p.m. slot this fall, where they will air opposite "The Tonight Show" on NBC and "Nightline" on ABC.
In recent years, CBS has relied on reruns of network series for that late-night time period, but last season it introduced a first-run, Canadian-produced police series, "Night Heat." "Hooker" will join it in the late-night lineup.
Grant said that he could foresee adding one night of all new programming each season until there is a full original slate in the late-night slot.
CBS might accomplish that goal quicker, but Harvey Shephard, senior vice president of programs, noted that the network typically is willing to pay only one-fourth as much per hour of late-night programming as it does for prime time, because the potential advertising revenue is so much less.
"What you try to do is get two-thirds the quality" as you would in prime time, he said. "You have to compromise somewhere."
One likely course to obtain low-cost original product for late night is co-production, perhaps with British or Canadian companies, Shephard said.
Grant said that the success of "Night Heat" has encouraged the network to stick with the dramatic format. Contrary to recent reports by Joan Rivers, Grant said that he knows of no one at CBS who has contacted the comedienne and frequent NBC "Tonight Show" guest host about a late-night talk show on CBS.
CBS is experimenting with original programming this August with four series--including one, "Hometown," that will continue into the fall. The others are a comedy, "One Hogan Place," a detective show, "I Had Three Wives," and a news magazine, "West 57th."
"We would like to get some audience back into the summer months," Grant said, adding that he would like to see CBS attract a younger audience.
Most of the other questions on the first of the three-day CBS "press tour" focused on "Charlie and Company," which some critics have dubbed a clone of NBC's "The Cosby Show," and the future of Stacy Keach and "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer."
Grant said that "Charlie and Company," which stars Flip Wilson and Gladys Knight, would have been developed regardless of "Cosby's" success.
Shephard said that with "The Cosby Show" being such a big hit, it was only natural that "suppliers and producers (would) come in with a black person in the lead or co-lead."
As for Keach, the star of "Mike Hammer," Thomas Leahy, executive vice president of the CBS Broadcast Group, said that he considered Keach to be rehabilitated after serving a nine-month jail sentence in England for smuggling a small amount of cocaine into that country. Grant added that Keach deserved to have his future discussed in private before plans were aired in the news media.
Questioned later in the day, Shephard said that unless "Mike Hammer," currently in reruns, "performs well (in the ratings) in the next few weeks, it won't be back."