CBS, reeling from poor ratings, the loss of pro football and last week’s departure of its Broadcast Group president, Howard Stringer, took the offensive Tuesday by announcing it has signed producer Steven Bochco to a multi-series deal.
Peter Tortorici, president of CBS Entertainment, said the Bochco pact comes at “an exceptionally good time.”
CBS, ending a dismal February ratings sweeps, is third for the season in total household ratings and last among the four major networks with the 18-to-49-year-old audience that is a priority with sponsors.
Bochco, who previously gave impetus to NBC with “Hill Street Blues” and “L.A. Law” and to ABC with “NYPD Blue,” observed: “When a network needs help, it’s clearly time to get together.”
The producer’s exclusive three-series commitment to CBS, which begins in 1997 and runs through the year 2000, comes as his 10-series deal with ABC is winding down, terminating at the end of 1996.
However, Bochco and CBS could get together before then because the producer’s ABC contract now is in its “first-look” stage, meaning he could take programs elsewhere if they are turned down.
“We can be in business with him immediately,” said a hopeful Tortorici.
“The timing is just right for CBS and us,” Bochco told a conference call of TV writers in which Tortorici also took part.
CBS apparently is hoping that the Bochco pact can at least partly counteract such competition as ABC’s deals with various top producers, including the company recently formed by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.
In addition to his three series for CBS, Bochco says he has an arrangement that will allow him to take shows elsewhere if, say, someone comes to his company with a project and it is decided that it is best to go to another outlet with it.
With rumors flying again that CBS may be up for sale--and Barry Diller and Ted Turner mentioned among possible suitors--Stringer left the network to head an interactive video firm owned by three regional telephone companies that intends to deliver programming over phone lines.
Under Stringer, CBS was No. 1 in household ratings for three years. Stringer also scored a spectacular coup by wooing David Letterman away from NBC. But he lost the National Football League games to Fox.
Since then, it’s been mostly downhill for CBS, especially in comedy programming, where two other producers with multi-series deals, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (“Designing Women”) and Diane English (“Murphy Brown”), have failed to deliver other big winners.
Under the 10-series ABC contract that was agreed on in 1987, Bochco’s seventh show, “Murder One,” an hour drama that reportedly will deal with a trial throughout an entire season, is targeted for this fall.
His ABC hits have included “NYPD Blue” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” His other shows for ABC have been “Civil Wars,” “Cop Rock,” “Capitol Critters” and “The Byrds of Paradise.” Another Bochco ABC series, “Hooperman,” was not part of the 10-program agreement.
Bochco noted that one factor in making his big ABC deal was that his old network, NBC, “was so successful at the time” and thus could not manage such a wide-ranging offer. But CBS has plenty of openings for shows.
Observing that Bochco’s deal runs through 2000, Tortorici said that despite speculation, “CBS intends to be in the business of prime-time television.”