CBS has plenty of problems other than "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" to deal with. Principally, its viewers are old - their average age is 53 and well over half of them are over the age of 55, which is a demographic almost no advertisers will pay to reach.
So the network is making an effort to expand its audience - "get younger" are the buzzwords."Admittedly, we are going after more males and a more urban audience this season," CBS Television President and CEO Leslie Moonves said. "We need to get younger. We feel we will. We have more shows set in urban places and more programs with male faces in them. This effort is partially based on economics and partly to provide a broad range of programming for our viewers. We want to have something for everyone at CBS."
Still, he continues his attacks on the current business system under which networks operate - a system that has just about everyone trying to appeal to the 18-to-49 demographic.
"Changes must be made to ensure that networks provide a more diverse assortment of programming," Moonves said. "If broadcast networks are to survive in the long run, we must strike a better balance in an effort to please both our viewers and our advertisers. The relentless pursuit of demographics is turning the network business into narrow-casting. If all networks continue to chase the same limited audience, we will limit our creative landscape for material and offer indistinguishable programming.
"Yes, it's a business. We want to make money. But we need to do it in a way that expands this business, not contracts it."
CBS is specifically targeting male viewers 18-35 - a group that largely abandoned the network in the past five years, coinciding with CBS's loss of the NFL. Well, the NFL returns to CBS in September and the network is trying to take advantage of that.
CBS executives keep talking about the "6 billion impressions" they'll get from NFL coverage. (They figure that by multiplying the cumulative number of estimated viewers by the number of promotional spots in all those football game telecasts.)
"We discovered, in our research, that over the last four years men 35 and younger weren't watching anything on CBS," Moon-ves said. "Our demographics are horrific in that group. So it hurt `Letterman,' it hurt the news, it hurt all the places where there was potential for male viewers."
Which, in part, explains dropping "Dr. Quinn" and adding the action/comedy "Martial Law."
While CBS is publicly committed to trying to attract more male viewers to its shows this fall, Moonves insists he isn't abandoning the largely female audience that watched "Dr. Quinn."
"CBS is committed to being a broadcaster in the truest sense of the word," he said. "We will continue to program for all audiences, and our current lineup, we feel, reflects that. We have edgy comedies . . . family comedies . . . mature dramas . . . and family dramas. And, yes, this year we even have martial arts drama."
But the network's overall schedule will remain "primarily female," and that includes most of CBS's new series.
(Indeed, a quick glance reveals that more than half of CBS's new shows are designed to appeal to a primarily female audience.)
Moonves pointed to CBS's longstanding and much-publicized efforts to convince advertisers that there's more to the television viewing audience than simply 18- to 49-year-old viewers. And much of the reason that Madison Avenue believes younger is better is that buying TV ad time is an entry-level position at advertising firms - so the ad buyers tend to be young.
"I don't think viewers want twentysomething Madison Avenue media buyers wielding so much influence over the programming that is piped into their living rooms," Moonves said. "And I don't feel that media buyers necessarily accurately reflect the tastes of all viewers."
CBS's campaign to broaden the definition of what viewers are important to advertisers is, of course, self-serving - CBS's audience has by far the oldest viewers of any network. But for anyone who wants to see something on network television other than another clone of "Friends," it's a battle worth fighting - and one that Moonves is asking for help with.
"This is a battle we can't fight alone," he said. "The viewers can help out by communicating directly to advertisers. We love 18- to 49-year-olds. However, viewers outside the 18-49 demographic need to let advertisers know that they have purchasing power and they do respond to advertising."
RERUN-O-RAMA: The only thing for certain at this point is that "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" reruns will begin airing five days a week Aug. 31 on the new PAX network (including PAX-owned station KUPX-Ch. 16 in Provo.)
So why won't PAX just produce original episodes. "It's principally because, in its sixth year, it costs a considerable amount of money to produce," said PAX President and CEO Jeff Sagansky. "And, frankly, in our first year we just can't afford it."
PAX and Seymour have also announced they're doing a two-hour "behind-the-scenes" documentary about the making of the show, but that might not come off. CBS, which owns the show and licensed it to PAX, is charging copyright infringement and threatening legal action.
At this point, PAX insists it will go ahead with the special and CBS insists it will go to court to prevent PAX from doing so.