CBS Boss Les Moonves Predicts Long Run for ‘Two and a Half Men’ With Ashton

At a Hollywood Radio & TV Society luncheon, the CBS chief talks up the sitcom's current cast and strong political campaign spending

"Rancor in Washington is good" for the networks, and the election year of 2012 "is going to be a banner year for us."

So said CBS chief Les Moonves during a one-on-one interview event at the Beverly Hilton Thursday.

Interviewed by TV writer Brian Lowry at a luncheon sponsored by the Hollywood Radio and Television Society, Moonves said he sees no downturn in the current advertising economy and only expects good things ahead as CBS and its rivals get ready to feed on election-year advertising.

"We're not seeing what we were seeing three or four years ago when people were pulling back," he said

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Moonves also referenced the $250 million CBS will receive in broadcast retransmission fees this year as a sign of good network television health.

"Those fees will be going up, an they should have gone up a long time ago," he said.

Moonves was also asked about the turmoil surrounding hit sitcom "Two and a Half Men" and it's ex-star earlier this year.

"When you've been around as long as I have, you learn one thing: s— happens," he said.

Moonves said the network is pleased with the new iteration of "Men" with Ashton Kutcher: "This show could last with the current numbers it has for many, many years."

As he was speaking, word was circulating of the dissolution of Kutcher's marriage with Demi Moore, although interviewer Lowry wasn't plugged into Blackberry at the time.

So what was it like going through the process of Charlie Sheen leaving the show?

"It just wasn't fun," Moonves responded. "It's no good when there's lawyers involved in a TV show."

Faced with that jumping off point, Lowry recalled a tense contract re-negotiation with Ray Romano eight years ago, when the actor brought in his lawyer, Moonves' brother John, to meet with CBS brass.

According to Moonves, negotiations got so tense, he had to recues himself and let his longtime lieutenant, Nancy Tellem, finish the deal.

Moonves brought the house down with this recollection, noting that he told his mom later in the week, "Your son is an a–hole."

Asked about his fledgling movie studio, CBS Films, Moonves called Lowry's description of "rocky start" as being "better than fair.

"I don't think it was the wrong strategy, it's been the wrong films," he said, noting that of the five movies CBS Films has released, three have managed to break even and two have lost money. 

"They haven't been movies I'm proud of," he said.

Asked about the NBA lockout, the conglomerate chief also saw another chance for CBS to make hay: "If the season is cancelled, all that NBA money has to go somewhere," he noted. (CBS doesn't license NBA broadcasts, but it does carry the lucrative NCAA Tournament.)

Meanwhile, addressing the topic of ratings, Moonves voiced his irritation at media outlets that report that only the 18-49 demo is relevant to advertisers. 

CBS' "Blue Bloods," he noted, is sold against a 25-54 demo, not the 18-49.