CBS TELEVISION affiliates, after four years of finishing third in the prime-time ratings and watching the network fail in every attempt to revive its fortunes, appeared to be in an unusually upbeat mood yesterday at their annual meeting with CBS management.
Despite an industrywide advertising recession that has severely hurt the profits of local stations, many CBS affiliates were optimistic about the future of the
network. Until recently, optimism at CBS has been as rare as a hit show.
"Everybody is focusing on what the network is doing in prime time," Benjamin Tucker, president of KJEO-TV in Fresno, Calif., said. "With the major sports franchises, plus the improvement in prime time, there's the definite possibility that we can be No. 1" next year.
In the volatile business of network television, optimism can evaporate with the slightest down tick in the ratings. But
that didn't stop CBS executives from brashly predicting that the network would win the all-consuming prime-time ratings race next season.
"I'd be disappointed if we were not No. 1 next season," said Jeff Sagansky, president of CBS Entertainment and the network's chief programmer. Despite the virtual tie in prime time among the major networks this past season, CBS was the only one to post gains in audience.
CBS has made measurable progress in the past year. The network attracts a majority of the highly desirable young-adult audience on Monday nights for programs such as "Murphy Brown" and "Designing Women," and ratings have shot up 25 percent on Tuesday nights due to such shows as "Rescue 911" and theatrical movies.
However, the network lost money last year and is expected to do so again this year -- perhaps even wiping out any profits at the parent company, executives privately warn.