Speaking to television critics here on Saturday, NBC President Robert Wright snidely accused CBS of trying to boost their feeble prime time showing of late by spending $1.1 billion on a four-year Major League Baseball package.
On Tuesday, CBS Sports President Neal Pilson proudly asserted that CBS is trying to boost its feeble prime time showing of late by spending $1.1 billion on a four-year Major League Baseball package.I guess it's all a matter of perspective.
From Pilson's perspective, spending $1.1 billion on a package that will give CBS exclusive network rights to baseball - including the All-Star Game, both league championship series, the World Series and 12 regular season games - from 1990-1994 was a good investment. But according to Wright, well . . .
"We would not have done what CBS did," he said during his press tour press conference on Saturday. "They obviously felt this was a desperate situation for them. When you get depressed you reach out for anything, and with things so terrible at CBS Entertainment baseball probably seemed like a good way to bring people back into the tent."
Pilson agrees. Even though he disagrees.
"Baseball is one of the best building blocks we could secure for the future of our network," he said during the first day of CBS's portion of the press tour. "We're absolutely confident of the value we purchased in baseball."
Value? How can anything that costs more than a billion dollars be discussed in terms of "value"? "You can't put a money value on what it will mean to CBS to have the two league championship series and the World Series lead off the season every year for four years," Pilson said. "That means we have a good chance to start off every year in first place. That's something we've never been able to do at CBS, because we've always been going up against baseball."
And that's why Pilson claims baseball will not just be a coup for CBS Sports. Rather, he said, it will be "a corporate asset." It will give the network big prime time numbers early in the season, and it will also give the network a good opportunity to promote other entertainment programs with the baseball audience.
But Wright isn't sure that promotional ability is going to mean much to CBS. "We've been looking at the value of entertainment promotion during sporting events," Wright said, "and frankly, we're not sure that they work as well as they're supposed to. At least, they don't seem to have meant that much to us. We'll have to see how they work for CBS."
"I'm surprised that the network that had baseball for 40 years is suddenly starting to say that it really wasn't that important," Pilson said when informed of Wright's comments. "We never heard them disparage baseball until they didn't have it anymore."
And you're not going to hear any disparaging remarks from Pilson. "We have a good package," he said. "We made a good deal. I won't complain."
Even if Wright wants to complain for him.
-ALSO TALKING BASEBALL these days is ESPN, which recently won the cable bidding war for regular season baseball. The all-sports network will pay $400 million for the right to present four games a week starting in the 1990 season.
"Sharing big ticket packages with cable is the future of network sports," Pilson said. "Not only do they share some of the financial burden, but they also make it possible for us to keep some time available for the NBA playoffs and the NCAA championship tournament. We're determined to keep both of those franchises as well."
Making it sound very much like the "S" in CBS is going to stand for "Sports" during the 1990s.
-VIDBITS: Cristina Ferrare ("Incredible Sunday") will replace Sandy Hill as Robb Weller's co-host on ABC's "Home" daytime show on Monday . . . ABC will launch its "Spenser: For Hire" spin-off, "A Man Called Hawk" starring Avery Brooks, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. It will continue in the Saturday night time period . . . ABC's "Studio 5B," a sort of TV version of filmdom's "Broadcast News," will start playing Sundays at 7 p.m. on Jan. 29 . . . This Sunday's edition of "60 Minutes" will devote the entire hour to Mike Wallace's recent White House interview with President Ronald Reagan . . . CBS's new "The Pat Sajak Show" won its time period when it premiered Monday night (even though the words "Vanna White" never once crossed Sajak's lips) . . .