Thursday, March 4, 2010

FLASHBACK: CBS Slipping From Daytime Lead 1972

C.B.S. Slipping From Long Daytime TV Lead

By George Gent
New York Times
January 21, 1972

Daytime television is a woman's world of exquisitely prolonged suffering, greed, hate, abortions, betrayals and young and middle-aged love. It is a world with a seemingly endless fascination for some 50 million viewers who together make up a market of more than $300-million annually for which the three major networks battle tirelessly. For 17 years, the Columbia Broadcasting System has reigned supreme over that world without serious challenge. Until now.

The challenge, from the National Broadcasting Company and American Broadcasting Company, has sparked a frantic scramble at all three networks to further improve their ratings posture and has set off another round of the TV industry's favorite indoor parlor games - executive musical chairs.

The threat to C.B.S was best explained by Oscar Katz, the networks vice president of programs on the East Coast and a veteran daytime programmer.

"Daytime," he said, "provides the cream that allows us to put on all those nighttime goodies."

Economy Reeling

With TV's economy already reeling from the loss of cigarette advertising, and the general economic pinch, the loss to C.B.S., which accounted for about 50 percent of the market, of what it had come to consider its private gold reserve, was ground enough for panic.

Nevertheless, the network refuses to concede defeat and has taken steps it hopes will stern the slide. A major one was the hiring away of its foremost antagonist - B. Donald (Bud) Grant, the National Broadcasting Company's director of daytime programming on the East coast.

During the preparation of this article, Mr. Grant was N.B.C.'s spokesman. In less than two weeks he had joined C.B.S. as its new vice president of daytime programming, replacing Paul Rauch, who had left a month earlier.

In explanation, C.B.S.'s Oscar Katz said: "We hired Bud Grant because we consider him the best available piece of manpower."

N.B.C. which had good reason to share C.B.S.'s high opinion of Mr. Grant, was understandably nettled at his leaving, while Mr. Grant's comment on the switch was: "I told you daytime television was highly competitive."

Executive Changes

In response, N.B.C. last week hired Claire L. Simpson, vice president of Young & Rubcam's radio and television division, as its new vice president of daytime programming.

Behind the executive changes, of course, is the decline in C.B.S.'s daytime fortunes, a decline that can be traced with clinical precision in the stark audience ratings provided by the A.C. Nielsen Company. While C.B.S. still holds a slight lead, all three networks have been neck-to-neck in recent weeks. Eevn more significantly, C.B.S.'s lead to date over N.B.C. is only 3 percent compared with last year's 22 percent, while it leads A.B.C. by only 7 percent compared with 43 percent a year ago.

How did it happen? Each network has it's own explanation and each has a certain validity.

Mr. Grant, when still at N.B.C. credited the strong N.B.C. thrust to the increasing strength of its five daytime serials and three game shows against C.B.S.'s eight long-running serials, which, he said, finally ran out of steam. He particularly cited the strong showing of DAYS OF OUR LIVES, which, in recent months replaced C.B.S.'s AS THE WORLD TURNS as daytime's top-rated serial. Another factor, he said, is the strong showing of DINAH SHORE in the 10 A.M. slot against C.B.S.'s reruns of Lucille Ball.

Mr. Grant is convinced that TV's morning and afternoon audiences are significantly different and, under his direction, N.B.C. programmed accordingly. On the theory that women, who make up the vast majority of daytime viewers, still have chores to do in the mornings, N.B.C. scheduled game shows opposite C.B.S.'s lineup of soaps.

There have also been industry reports that N.B.C. plans to bring in an all-new series of PEYTON PLACE dramas to replace BRIGHT PROMISE, one of its weaker entries, daily at 3:30 P.M. That, too, can be credited to Mr. Grant.

Comments by A.B.C.

A.B.C., which doesn't really compete with the two other networks until 11:30 A.M. weekdays, has parlayed aggressive counterprogramming into a successful challenge to both C.B.S. and N.B.C. Michael Eisner, A.B.C.'s daytime vice president, said confidently that "C.B.S.'s daytime dominance is over and it will have to learn to live with its mistakes for awhile."

"It takes several years to lose momentum in this area," he added, "and it will take at least that long to regain it."

Mr. Eisner attributes the C.B.S. lag to its permitting its daytime serials to grow old in concept and character. "Some of their main characters have been around for nearly two decades," he explained. "The older generation may identify with them, but not the young housewives our advertisers want to reach."

To capitalize on what he believed were C.B.S.'s failures, Mr. Eisner counterprogrammed with four afternoon game shows, three soaps, including the highly successful series GENERAL HOSPITAL, and repeats of LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE.

"We thought there might be a new audience for LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE, and we were right," he explained. Mr. Eisner said his network's plans ultimately call for competition across the board in the daytime hours with the other networks, but the plan would be developed systemically.

Projects already announced are a series of monthly made-for-TV movies on tape, staring this summer, and a monthly series of children's programs for next season.

C.B.S. candidly admits that its daytime situaion is serious, but denies emphatically that it is fatal. "We're still number one at this point in the season," said Mr. Katz, "and I venture to say we will still be number one when the season is over."

To make certain it is, C.B.S. hired Mr. Grant to develop new daytime programming while both play doctor to the network's eight ailing daytime serials, four of which are produced by Procter & Gamble.

Excessive Interference

"It's our four - LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING, LOVE OF LIFE, THE SECRET STORM and WHERE THE HEART IS - which have slipped the most," Mr. Katz explained.

He said there had been excessive interference recently in the production and the writing of the C.B.S.-produced shows and every effort was now being made to give the control back to the producers and writers. As an example of the problems he has uncovered, Mr. Katz said one of the serials had nine storylines going at once.

"I couldn't understand what was happening with the help of a story board," he declared. "How could we expect viewers to understand?"

C.B.S. is also bringing back Irna Phillips as the headwriter of AS THE WORLD TURNS, the serial she created and wrote from 1956 until three years ago, in hope of putting the show back on the winning track. The network is also killing the repeats of GOMER PYLE weekdays at 4 P.M. and bringing in a new comedy panel show starting March 27 titled AMATEUR'S GUIDE TO LOVE. Although C.B.S. plans to stay with the soaps for the time being, it is committed to replacing any program that does not deliver.

Meanwhile, industry observers will be interested in seeing if Mr. Grant, the chief architect of N.B.C.'s challenge to the throne, is equally effective in saving it for C.B.S.

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