For 20 points, what's the difference between CBS News faking a billboard behind Dan Rather as he's reporting from Times Square on New Year's Eve and ABC News faking the Capitol behind Cokie Roberts as she's reporting from Washington?
Answer: The first is okay, the second is bad, CBS News President Andrew Heyward told The Reporters Who Cover Television at the winter press tour here today.
The 1994 situation, in which ABC News put an image of the Capitol behind Roberts, who was inside the Washington bureau but wearing a coat, "was an overt attempt to deceive and to make people think that Cokie was reporting on the scene when she wasn't," Heyward explained.
The CBS billboard, which was a plug for CBS News, was an attempt to block out the NBC Jumbotron--super-big-screen TV--under the Waterford crystal ball in Times Square.
"This was, in my view, an extension of electronic signage," said Heyward, who said he made the call.
He noted that CBS News has been using the technique since November "in a very whimsical and creative way" on "The Early Show" to put the show's logo in various places it isn't really--like the middle of Fifth Avenue.
Heyward acknowledged that its use in the New Year's Eve reporting was "a closer call" and that he "can see reasonable people debating" whether it was appropriate.
Also in his defense, Heyward said, "I think most people know there's probably not a CBS logo in Times Square."
There's nothing like the provincialism of the New York media.
Heyward's boss, CBS Television CEO Leslie Moonves, got a laugh when he weighed in on the subject during the same morning Q&A session.
"Any time there's an NBC logo up in our network we will block it again," he said. But he later amended that to stipulate that "if the NBC logo was part of a news story--if somebody used an NBC logo to commit a murder--we wouldn't cut it out."
Heyward also danced around a question regarding news reports that Al Ortiz would be replaced as executive producer of the struggling "CBS Evening News."
According to one of the reports, Ortiz would be moved to a post at CBS News special events, and Jim Murphy, senior producer on "48 Hours" and for the past six months a senior producer on the evening newscast, would take over as executive producer.
"We don't have any announcement to make today," Heyward said. "What I would say is that the 'Evening News' ratings are a concern."
Ortiz, Heyward said, "has done a terrific job" and is "a very important part of our team."
And, given the lousy lead-in the "CBS Evening News" has in some of the biggest TV markets, "you could actually flip the story around and say that the program is an overachiever in the environment it has to operate in," Heyward noted.
CBS has whacked a big chunk out of the opening sequence in "City of Angels" after deciding it was too controversial for the new African American ensemble drama that has become a lightning rod in the storm over racial diversity on television.
Originally, the scene had City of Angels Hospital's soused chief of staff, played by Garrett Morris, heading to the morgue to look at the body of a diva. He has a lengthy, sometimes racy conversation with her corpse, looks at her under the sheet and tries to take a picture of the two of them together. He's caught in the act by a janitor and subsequently fired.
Most of his conversation, the peek under the sheet and the black janitor dancing with a mop have been cut.
"When you tote it up the scoreboard, there were enough reasons to modify that scene that none of us had any qualms about doing it," said executive producer Steven Bochco.
"There was some racial sensitivity to what we did in that scene. . . . I think we got the best of it and eliminated those aspects . . . that might be troublesome, either creatively or racially."
The show debuts on Sunday before moving to its regular Wednesday 8 p.m. time period.
Moonves said CBS is just days away from announcing a pact with the NAACP to improve minority representation behind the camera and in its executive suites.
NBC and ABC already have announced agreements; CBS and Fox are likely to follow suit.
CBS didn't feel it was part of the NAACP's initial complaint about the lack of diversity in prime-time show casting because of programs such as "Cosby" and the midseason "City of Angels." Now that the debate has been expanded into talks about the nets' executive ranks and outside companies with whom they do business, CBS has been involved, Moonves said. Unlike NBC's deal, under which it promises to hire a minority writer on every series that lasts to a second season and guarantees $10 million to minority outside suppliers, CBS's pact does not have "actual numbers" attached, Moonves said.
CAPTION: Another opening, same show: Blair Underwood of "City of Angels."