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Warner Bros. chief takes helm of CBS entertainment


Just two weeks after announcing a radical restructuring of its fall schedule, ratings-starved CBS is shaking up its L.A.-based entertainment division.

The embattled network, whose prime-time lineup crashed to third place last season after three consecutive years in first, Wednesday said that Leslie Moonves will succeed Peter Tortorici as president of CBS Entertainment.

Mr. Moonves, 45, president of Warner Bros. Television, is considered by many observers to be the hottest TV executive in Hollywood. Since taking over Warner TV six years ago, Mr. Moonves has solidified its position as the industry's most prolific supplier to the four networks.

Next fall, for example, 17 comedies and dramas produced by Warner Bros. will account for some 14 percent of the 81 prime-time hours on NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. They include "ER" and "Friends" on NBC, "Family Matters" on ABC and "Living Single" on Fox.

There will be four Warner Bros. shows on CBS' fall schedule, including "Murphy Brown" and "Bless This House," a new sitcom starring Andrew Dice Clay and Cathy Moriarty.

By hiring Mr. Moonves, industry observers noted, CBS chairman Laurence Tisch is taking a dramatic step that may impress Wall Street and boost the value of CBS stock. Although he has often denied it, Mr. Tisch has been looking to sell his controlling interest in CBS but has not yet found a buyer willing to meet his price.

In a bit of understatement, Mr. Moonves said he was excited by the challenge of "taking a network that is in a little bit of trouble and turning it around."

Mr. Tortorici, 45, who had three years to go on a four-year $H contract, opted for a cash buyout rather than accept a CBS offer to serve as Mr. Moonves' second-in-command.

Sources estimated the buyout at several million dollars.

In an interview, Mr. Tortorici said he saw no point in returning to the job he had prior to assuming the presidency 14 months ago.

"These are great jobs, but they're brutally difficult jobs," Mr. Tortorici said. "What sustains you is being able to pursue your own vision for the schedule. I can't go back to servicing someone else's vision. I've already crossed that bridge."

On May 24, Mr. Tortorici presided over CBS' presentation of its new fall schedule in New York and received an enthusiastic response from the audience of advertising executives. Last week, at a similar presentation to skeptical CBS affiliates gathered in Los Angeles, the reaction to the schedule was equally positive.

Ironically, next fall's schedule, more than a third of which will be new, will be the first one for which Mr. Tortorici is truly responsible. The 1994-1995 schedule that bombed so badly was one of aging shows, appealing to aging viewers, that he inherited from his predecessor, Jeff Sagansky.

Mr. Moonves will join CBS after concluding negotiations with Warner for an early release from his contract, which runs through the end of the year. CBS is expected to secure Mr. Moonves' release with a substantial cash payment or program commitments to Warner Bros., or a combination of the two. Besides running entertainment, Mr. Moonves will also become an executive vice president of CBS Broadcast Group.

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