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LeMasters: CBS Making ‘Draconian Choices’

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Times Staff Writer

It’s not that the American public didn’t like the No. 3 network’s new fall programs, CBS Entertainment President Kim LeMasters observed Thursday. It’s that they never got around to sampling them in the first place.

LeMasters, who met with national television writers and critics here along with CBS executive vice president of prime-time programs Barbara Corday during the network’s annual winter press tour, blamed the failure of some of CBS’ new fall shows on the competition, rather than on the quality of those new shows.

“The overall problem at CBS is . . . we’re getting into an environment where we are locked into (last place in many) time periods,” LeMasters said. “We are more than failing--we are being ignored in most time periods.”

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LeMasters was referring to CBS’ already canceled new programs, which include “The Van Dyke Show” and “Raising Miranda,” as well as to endangered shows including the Mary Tyler Moore vehicle “Annie McGuire” and “Dirty Dancing,” both of which will undergo creative changes in hopes of bolstering the ratings. The fact that such a small audience watched the shows in the first place makes it extremely difficult for the network to analyze what’s wrong with them, he said.

LeMasters defended CBS’ decision to cancel some new shows after only a few episodes, despite earlier pledges that CBS would allow its programs time to find their audience, much as NBC did when it was in last place.

“We can’t save everything,” LeMasters said. “When you have too many shows (that are failing in the ratings), you have to make some Draconian choices.

“It is difficult for our network to climb back (into first place) in a time period, but that is our obligation. We can’t just roll over and play dead” in the face of competition, he said.

LeMasters pointed to the network’s decision to stick with “Wiseguy,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Tour of Duty,” all of which struggled in the ratings last season, as evidence that CBS is not “guilty of wholesale slaughter” of quality shows in the quest for good Nielsen numbers.

LeMasters added that CBS’ recent $1.1 billion investment in acquiring major league baseball rights beginning in 1990 does not represent any sacrifice of commitment to developing new entertainment programming. “I look on baseball extremely favorably. . . . The network has to establish a trademark,” he said, adding: “Believe me, we are not strapped in the entertainment division.”

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Although Corday noted that CBS is planning to introduce more high-concept movies to its schedule--including “Outside Woman,” starring Sharon Gless as a woman who breaks her boyfriend out of jail; “Kiss Shot,” with Whoopi Goldberg as a pool hustler, and “Dark of the Moon,” with Brigitte Nielsen as a scientist on a space mission--LeMasters said that the network has no qualms about a riskier project, the eight-hour Western miniseries “Lonesome Dove,” to be broadcast Feb. 5-8.

LeMasters said that the lower-than-projected ratings for ABC’s “War and Remembrance” had not frightened CBS away from presenting a serious miniseries. “ ‘Lonesome Dove’ is a project of love. . . . If it doesn’t do well, that’s a shame,” he said. “I do know that ‘Lonesome Dove’ will have a place in Americana. . . . It’s the right thing to have done.”

Other new series projects announced by Corday include new comedies from Tim Reid and Hugh Wilson (more traditional sitcoms than their previous effort, the canceled “Frank’s Place”); “Hard Time on Planet Earth,” a comedy about an alien sentenced to Earth as his jail term; “Live-In,” about an 18-year-old au pair who finds herself taking care of a 16-year-old boy who falls in love with her, and a retooling of “High Mountain Rangers,” which puts the rural characters out of their element by moving them to San Francisco.

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