Surprise shift in network rankings; 'Bud' Grant -- Man behind CBS-TV's hop to the ratings top
A gentlemen named Bud is the man responsible for the flowering of CBS last season. When a TV network is in ratings trouble, the finger is usually pointed at its president -- and often rightly so, since he is the man with most of the final yea-or-nay programming power. And when a network makes a heroic leap to first place in the ratings after dwelling in the viewing lower depths, it is only fair that the same man should get the credit.Skip to next paragraph
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The man who accomplished what some insiders consider the impossible task of bringing CBS up to No. 1 position this past season is B. Donald (Bud) Grant, president of CBS Entertaiment Division. He did it with a little help, perhaps, from his friends on the CBS board -- namely William S. Paley.
Bud Grant occupies an unpretentious office in "Black Rock,"CBS headquarters here. Unpretentious but, still, a sunny, double-windowed corner office, the kind not usually assigned to minor executives. He greets the interviewer with a cheery smile which belies the slightly "Hitlerian" mustache - a bit like Charlie Chaplin playing "The Great Dictator" rather than the dictator himself. But Mr. Grant is no martinet -- he is an easygoing man with a sense of humor far more sophisticated than the broad humor so often dominant in his shows.
In past years I have seen him at press conferences, microphone in hand, working the room like a skilled nightclub entertainer, always ready with exactly the right answer to seemingly impossible questions. His good nature and staying power are much admired in an industry accustomed to the quick coming and going of nervous executives. He is really a Very Important Person because, as head of the e entertainment division of a network that finished first 20 out of 25 weeks of the 1980-81 season, Mr. Grant is one of TV's top tastemakers.
Although he has worked at CBS since 1972, it was only last year that he was put in charge of developing new entertainment programming. Scheduling and promotion are also under his aeigis.
"You would come visit me," he laughs, "during one of the few weeks that CBS falls out of first place." (It was mainly due to the high ratings of NBC's "Miss Universe" contest.) "Well, we had a long winning streak, and if we have to lose a week, I'm glad it's not during the regular season." (Since he said that, CBS has been in and out of the top spot several times.)
TO what does he attribute the 1980-81 CBS comeback?
"As long as I've been here we've had a consistent point of view, and that is series programming. That's the backbone of the CBS schedule. Series programming is the most popular and efficient form for television. Three or four year ago there was a definite division of opinion between the way we approached things and the way NBC did -- they went for event programming, specials, miniseries, that sort of thing. Well, . . ." he shrugs his shoulders as NBC's last-place position is obviously recalled.
"My theory is -- find successful series programming develop it, put it on the air, promote it well, advertise it well."
But doesn't that mean what some might consider questionable shows like "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Magnum, P.I.?"
He shrugs. "But it also means 'Trapper John,' 'Lou Grant,' and 'M*A*S*H.' Not everything can appeal to everybody."
Mr. Grant says the 8-9 p.m. hour should be devoted to family entertainment, although he adds "giving that hour the name 'Family Viewing Hour' was unfortunate. It made that hour sound as if it had limited appeal, and it didn't deserve that. All three of the networks for many years have recognized the peculiarities of an early-evening show, that there are a good number of young people in the audience. Being responsible broadcaster, we recognize the need to program with that in mind. Despite what some people believe, we are basically responsible programmers."
Does this season's new schedule reflect the influence of the Moral Majority?
"I don't think so -- yet I couldn't say honestly to you that they're being ignored. They are still a very vocal presence. But the shows that are going on now were developed over a year ago, before the Moral Majority and the Coalition for Better Television became so vocal.
"TV series go in cycles. There used to be a slew of westerns on the air. And then there were private eye shows. It's the public. They like one thing until the point of saturation and then the pendulum swings the other way. So television is always going through cycles. I think it is evolution, but I don't think it is revolution."