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Network chiefs meet for lunch and don't talk about new season

October 11, 2011 |  3:49 pm

Apparently the only area off limits at an industry luncheon featuring the entertainment presidents of the five broadcast networks was the new television season.

Typically, the Hollywood Radio & Television Society's Network Chiefs gathering is a platform for the heads of the networks to offer their perspectives on the start of the new season and assess what's working and what's not. This time around, though, that was the only topic that was verboten as moderator Jeff Probst, host of CBS' "Survivor," steered clear of anything to do with the month-old season.

There were no questions to NBC about why "The Playboy Club" flopped or to CBS about how nervous they were about "Two and a Half Men" falling off a cliff without Charlie Sheen. No one asked any network chiefs which of their rival's shows they wish they had, an old reliable chestnut at these rubber chicken luncheons.

Instead, most of the questions focused on the effect online viewing is having on media consumption and the need for more accurate ratings measurement, both of which are well-worn topics and neither of which brought any new insights from the panelists.

That doesn't mean there weren't some moments of candor from the panelists. NBC's new entertainment president, Jennifer Salke, acknowledged that she fast-forwards "through a lot of commercials" when she's watching programs that she has recorded on her digital video recorder. While Salke is no different from anyone else out there, it is rare when a TV executive admits the obvious.

Fox Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly was again quite vocal about his desire to do away with the schedule on which the broadcast television business operates. "It's stupid," he said, adding that the current system leads to lots of programming choices that are "kind of embarrassing."

Joining Reilly in advocating a new model was Paul Lee, who observed that with the current system, the broadcast networks all compete against one another for actors and writers under an extreme deadline.

Although there was little in the way of news out of the lunch, there was one bright spot. The phrase "at the end of the day," a staple of the typical television executive, was uttered only once during the entire event. That alone may be worth a celebration.

-- Joe Flint