CBS Corp. CEO: 'Tight' Fall Schedule Likely to Include 4 New Shows

UPDATED: Signaling that "The Big Bang Theory" could temporarily move to Mondays and that only two new dramas and two comedies may join the lineup, Leslie Moonves says he once again eyes healthy upfront growth.

CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves told an investor conference Tuesday that it will be tough again for new show pilots to make it onto the CBS fall season schedule given existing shows' strong ratings.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., he once again signaled that The Big Bang Theory could temporarily move to Monday nights this fall and that he expects only two CBS comedies and two dramas to be added to the programming lineup this fall. Moonves' appearance was webcast.

Last fall, CBS launched six new shows, but management has signaled before that the addition of new NFL games on Thursdays will further reduce the need for new shows.

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Asked about fall TV plans, Moonves said the company has only about 18 pilots this year, instead of 21-22 pilots last year. He said it looks likely that "two new comedies and two new dramas" will join the CBS lineup. "Our schedule is pretty darn tight," he said, adding that shows better be really good to make the cut. Among the pilots are CSI and NCIS spin-offs, which Moonves signaled had a good chance of making the cut given the strength of those franchises.

"We're the non-sexy network. All we do is get ratings," Moonves said about the network's strategy. "We are in pretty darn good shape."

Monday night this season was probably "slightly disappointing," Moonves said, citing competition from NBC's The Voice. How I Met Your Mother is having its final season this fall, and the NFL season's start, including six Thursdays with newly offered games, will also affect programming plans, Moonves said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see The Big Bang Theory, the number one comedy by about a mile and a half, on Monday night to be on the first six weeks," he said. "We could also take some of our other Thursday shows and put them on Monday." 

In the Monday 10 p.m. time slot could be a place for a returning successful show or a new show, he added.

On the company's recent earnings conference call, Moonves had also signaled a move of Thursday night hits to Monday for part of the fall season due to the NFL season start. "What we will do with our Thursday night is, we have some big shows, such as The Big Bang Theory…and we’re not going to wait until November to launch that,” Moonves said back then.

Going into this year's upfront advertising season, the CBS boss also touted the outlook for the upfront ad market, saying network TV is still the place to reach a big audience. "The truth is we don't pay that much attention to the scatter market" as the upfront sales account for 75 percent-plus of ad inventory, Moonves said. "It's all about the upfront."

He said he expects CBS to have the largest volume and ad rate growth of all networks this upfront season. But he said he wouldn't make specific forecasts this year. His ad sales people don't like when they get calls from ad clients saying "Les said what down there" at the conference and then telling them they aren't willing to pay 10 percent or so more. "I will be a little more hesitant" this year, Moonves said.

Asked about ad competition from Facebook and other digital players, the CBS boss said he is not concerned. "We're still the big dog," Moonves said. "We are still the place people go to when they want to reach 20 million people."

The CEO also told the investor conference that he remains as bullish as ever on the outlook for CBS Corp. "I'm high on the company" and its outlook, he said. And he reiterated that content monetization has been growing by "leaps and bounds."

The upcoming spin-off of its outdoor ad business will further strengthen CBS Corp.'s content focus, Moonves said. He emphasized that the company overall likes its asset mix. "We don't want to get too much smaller. Somebody could eat us up," he said.

He once again signaled a willingness to look at the possible acquisition of interesting cable networks that come up for a good price.

The CBS CEO on Tuesday also was asked again about the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable combination. Comcast, the largest U.S. cable operator, recently agreed to acquire second-largest cable firm Time Warner Cable in a $45 billion deal.

Moonves said that if the deal goes through, CBS Corp. will discuss with Comcast a melding of its carriage deal with CBS Corp. and the content firm's agreement with Time Warner Cable. "There will be a deal made," he said.

Asked about his interest in a la carte programming offers, Moonves said: "There are opportunities for a la carte, but we have avoided them. We like the [pay TV] eco-system."

He also once again said the company could decide to change its approach if digital developments put the company's business at risl. "If Aereo works, if they should win" a legal showdown with broadcasting, which he said he doubts, "we can go over the top" and sell the CBS signal so that the company itself can monetize it, Moonves said.

Twitter: @georgszalai