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CBS’ Schedule Suicide



CBS is a network with a death wish.


At least, it gives every appearance of being one. From airing family-pleasing hits like Touched By an Angel (a Top 10-rated program which earned multiple Emmy nominations for its stars Roma Downey and Della Reese); Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; and Murder, She Wrote, CBS has steadily abandoned the programming successes that made the network number one…and is now apparently bent on showcasing programming which cheapens its image and which few people want to watch.


With their new programming strategy CBS’ executives are forsaking any pretense of being responsible custodians of the public airwaves.


Back in November of 2004, in the wake of the Janet Jackson debacle, CBS’ top management agreed that they had been responsible for airing indecent programming. The network’s leaders signed a consent decree with the Federal Communications Commission admitting their wrongdoing, and paid a fine. Even more importantly, they committed to a detailed plan outlining their future compliance with federal broadcast indecency regulations. This agreement included a promise to suspend employees responsible for any future airing of indecent material. In exchange, the FCC dismissed all the outstanding indecency complaints against CBS. 


Then, as now, the network’s bosses demonstrated that their promises were worthless. CBS re-aired an episode of the drama Without A Trace which featured a teenage orgy.  As a result, the FCC (prompted in part by the PTC’s vigilance) fined CBS and its affiliates 3.6 million dollars.


The last time CBS showed an orgy, it cost them millions of dollars in fines – and the orgy was incidental to the program’s story. Yet now, CBS is going forward with its new drama Swingtown – the entire point of which is showing orgies and glamorizing “open marriage.”


Nor is Swingtown the only manifestation of CBS’ suicidal plunge towards the bottom of the programming barrel. In addition to its upcoming glorification of group sex, the network is now also airing “mixed martial arts” competitions. Along with the fact that the network also aired Dexter, the graphically gory program which portrayed a psychotic serial killer as a cute, quirky hero, this obsession with blood and brutality displays a disturbing consistency.


This is how CBS keeps its promise to avoid indecency: by showing spouse-swapping sex, sadistic serial killers and savage, bloody street fighting…all in prime time, where hundreds of thousands of children are exposed to it.


Nor are children the only ones impacted by CBS’ irresponsible programming decisions. What of advertisers, who are paying to have their products shown in an environment which makes TV viewers feel positive, and which encourages them to want to purchase such products? What of CBS’ stockholders, who want a fair return on their investment – and are seeing viewers flee in droves from CBS’ programming? Most of all, what of average Americans who tune in seeking diversion – and instead receive perversion?


CBS’ new programming is not safe for children and is not widely popular with adults.  Viewership figures for Dexter were uniformly dismal. On at least one occasion (March 16, 2008), Dexter was surpassed in its timeslot not only by an inane game show – but also by a rerun of NBC's Law & Order: SVU, which beat Dexter in the ratings by an incredible 33%!  


Nor are the new mixed martial arts programs welcomed by all viewers. While a success with TV watchers in Los Angeles, the fight competition airing May 31st was pre-empted by stations in Montana, Ohio and North Carolina, which replaced the brutal program with telethons or movies.


CBS is obviously a network in desperation; yet apparently, CBS executives like Les Moonves, Nina Tassler and others believe that the solution to their woes lies not in providing an alternative to the sleazy fare available on basic cable – but in doing their utmost to become a cable network themselves. Consider:


CBS took Dexter from premium cable network Showtime to broadcast…in prime time.


CBS has brought mixed martial arts programming from basic cable to broadcast…in prime time. And with Swingtown, CBS is attempting to copy premium cable sex programs like Californication onto broadcast…in prime time. The network’s new programs are imitating the salacious and “edgy” fare available on cable…except that CBS puts such programming on the publicly-owned airwaves, early in the evening, and makes it available to children. 


CBS has lost its way. Now reduced to showing smutty sitcoms, serial killers, orgies, and savage street fighting, the once-Tiffany network is apparently trying to become a cheap carbon copy of cable network Spike, or their bottom-feeding broadcast competitor MyNetworkTV. When CBS’ ratings spiral downward -- as they inevitably will – perhaps the network will finally discover that the way to please viewers, advertisers and investors is to show something they actually want to watch. 


“At the end of the day, the integrity of our company and the respect that you feel for CBS becomes the most important consideration." – CBS President Les Moonves, April 12, 2008


TV Trends: This column was compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff.


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