This Sunday's NY Times Magazine dedicated 8,000 or so lovingly crafted words to the delicate salad-tossing of CBS chief Les Moonves, the generously-betoothed future galactic despot who will one day use his humble position as head of a successful network to hold the entire universe in his incredibly charismatic sway. Realizing that busy television executives with their own plans for world domination may not have time to pore over the entire text of the New Moonves Testament for crucial trade secrets, we've distilled the mammoth profile down to four easily digestible tips for Nielsen success:
1. Maggots don't test well.
''In the pilot,'' Nina Tassler, CBS's head of entertainment, recalled in a recent conversation, ''there was a dead body in a bathtub with a wound that was covered by maggots. We watch the shows at lunch, and Les was eating coleslaw, and the maggots and the coleslaw had a certain visual similarity. Les is very squeamish, and he insisted that we trim the maggots. He was right: post-maggots, 'C.S.I.' tested through the roof.''
2. Make morgues fun!
''This last season I was worried about 'C.S.I.: N.Y.,''' he said as we prepared to leave the restaurant. ''It was way too dark, both in story line and look. The morgue looked like it was five stories below earth, and I said, 'This is not ''Batman.''' 'C.S.I.' is a great franchise, the No. 1 show on TV, and you shouldn't revolutionize it, which is what 'C.S.I.: N.Y.' was trying to do. So I called in Anthony Zuiker, the producer, and I said: 'You know those sets? Burn them.' The morgue on 'C.S.I.: Miami' looks like a restaurant. It may be an odd thing to say, but it looks like a fun place to be.
3. Program what you know.
Throughout his career, Moonves has always subscribed to a sports-inspired, team-oriented view of the world. Sometimes he's the coach, sometimes he's one of the players, but it's always about the group.
Curiously, most of CBS's successful dramas — the three ''C.S.I.'' shows, ''Without a Trace'' and many of the new about-to-be-discussed drama pilots — revolve around a group of specially trained professionals who work in unison and are headed by a dynamic, attractive middle-aged man. These prime-time-TV teams — much like Moonves's own — are determined and work-obsessed. They seem to think of their office as an extended family while, together, they solve crimes.
4. Even when you're on top, never forget to make Jeff Zucker your bitch.
Throughout the discussion, the group looked periodically at the board, especially at the NBC programs. Long the network to beat, NBC has been severely weakened in recent years. But Moonves, ever competitive, seemed propelled by the battle, even if his network is on top. ''Is 'Joey' really going to open Thursday nights for NBC?'' he asked at one point. ''That's a dream come true. I love the smell of napalm in the morning.''
Unfortunately, no amount of maggot-calibration will help even the most assiduous of programming acolytes develop the killer instinct and cock-swinging je ne sais quoi that has propelled The Master's success. You've got to be born wanting to napalm the competition to reach such Moonvesian heights.
- Giving Them What They Want [NY Times]