CBS says ratings success proves network TV viable

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The chief programer at CBS, the No. 1 U.S. network in prime-time ratings, said on Wednesday that its success proves broadcast television remains a viable business model despite a tough economy and challenges posed by the Internet.

Craig Ferguson (L) and executive producer Peter Lassally answer questions during the CBS and Showtime panel for "The Late Show with Craig Ferguson" at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Los Angeles January 14, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

“The CBS audience was up in the first half of the season. It is certainly not an easy time. It is a time when viewers have many options, but it can be done,” Nina Tassler, president of entertainment at CBS, said at the network’s midseason presentation for TV critics.

“We continue to believe that good content and good story-telling makes good business,” she added. “Network television still works.”

Tassler said CBS, a unit of CBS Corp, has always been “incredibly lean” and “very frugal” and has no plans to cut back on scripted programing next season.

“We plan on doing the same number of pilots in drama and comedies. Our attitude has always been, ‘How can we be cost effective, but always making sure we are preserving creativity,’” she said.

CBS ranks as the most-watched network at a time when commercial television is grappling with competition from the Internet and video games, changing viewer habits ushered in by digital video recorders and advertising declines precipitated by the recession.

CBS had nine of the top 20 top prime-time shows last week, including detective series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” the sitcom “Two and a Half Men” and the most popular new drama, “The Mentalist,” according to Nielsen Media Research.

Tassler acknowledged that the next few months would be tougher for CBS, given the return of the ratings juggernaut “American Idol” to News Corp’s Fox. But she noted that CBS retained 95 percent of its audience on Tuesday when “Idol” returned for its eighth season.

Tuesday’s season premiere of “American Idol” drew 30.1 million viewers, down 10 percent from its 2008 opener but still enough to crush competing programs.

Tassler attributed the success of CBS shows to the network’s emphasis on creativity.

“It’s about the quality of story-telling. ... Every one of our executives is focused on reaching deep into the creative community, finding new voices and new concepts,” she said.

Editing by Gerald E. McCormick