BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.–I have long told new kids attending these TCA press tours that they aren’t on this beat until they’ve been in a scrum with Leslie Moonves.

The CBS CEO was on stage before critics because CBS president Nina Tassler–scheduled to take questions at the executive session–had to fly back East Saturday due to the sudden death of a close friend.
Moonves played the room like Sinatra at the Sands, shooting back as good as he got. When Hollywood Reporter critic Tim Goodman asked why CBS was so gosh darn successful and why The CW was still on the air, Moonves said, “so one softball, one aimed right at my head.”
Moonves was quick to defend one suggestion that David Letterman might want to hang it up in late night. “He’s the dean,” he’s the best ever save Johnny Carson, he told critics. Despite Letterman still losing virtually every night to Leno, his man is not a failure in any way, shape or form. Bottom line, the show still makes money–and clearly Moonves still wants to watch him every night.
He begged off my question about the current negotiations with Time-Warner. Turn on a TV set here at the hotel and every CBS broadcast has a crawl under it, urging viewers to call their cable company and demand CBS or risk losing NCIS or Under The Dome forever! Moonves told critics he was bargaining on the phone 15 minutes prior to the session and went back straight after, cutting short his scrum. The new drop-dead deadline is 5 p.m. ET to get a deal done, or Time-Warner will go black on their CBS channels rather than pay the broadcaster a higher carriage fee.
There still was time for fun in the scrum. Asked at the end if he’ll miss How I Met Your Mother at the end of this season Moonves quipped, “I’m heartbroken.”
The news off the top of  the session was that summer smash Under The Dome has been renewed for next summer and that Stephen King will be writing the first new episode.
As to the matter of Cote de Pablo’s departure from CBS’s No. 1 series, NCIS, Moonves said CBS offered the actress “a lot of money” and then offered more money again. “We love her” and we don’t want to lose her, he insisted, but discussions are also going on with the rest of the cast. Shows heading into a second decade are often not as profitable for networks as costs and salaries continue to rise. “Ultimately, she decided she didn’t want to do the show,” said Moonves. The read-between-the-lines inference is that De Pablo’s agents maybe should have spoken to a couple of CSI stars before getting into a game of chicken with CBS.
Moonves threw a bone to soap fans, saying he sees The Y&R and B&B sticking to the daytime schedule “for a long, long time.”
He also admits he still gets involved in casting such reality shows as Survivor and Big Brother. “We don’t want wallflowers on reality TV,” he told critics.
Neither do you want racists. Moonves said he was appalled by comments from a current contestant but feels the matter had been handled. If she wins, she wins he said in the scrum.
Despite the fact his network finally wins A18-49, Moonves once again asked reporters to drop their obsession with the demo. He referenced a story in the New York Times last Tuesday which reported that the Fox News audience is now 65+. The median age of viewers of The Big Bang Theory, CBS numbers cruncher David Poltrack reported after the session, has now reached 50; for NCIS, it’s 59.
As for all those years rival Fox kicked CBS’s ass among younger viewers, Moonves said he always knew that wouldn’t last forever. As he said, “It helped, when Idol crashed.”
That’s the kind of smackdown you rarely get in the other guy’s executive scrum.

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