CBS president Les Moonves took on a wide range of questions about his network Monday, from CBS's fight with Time Warner Cable to why Cote de Pablo isn't returning to "NCIS."
Moonves was filling in for CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler at the Television Critics Association summer press tour because a friend of Tassler's died Sunday.
Time Warner Cable is threatening to drop CBS stations as of 2 p.m. PT Monday in a dispute over the fees Time Warner pays CBS to air its programming. Moonves said at the 8:30 a.m. PT panel that he was negotiating "as recently as 15 minutes ago" to avoid a blackout.
"It's a very difficult negotiation. We feel like we should be paid for our programming," he said. "I hope we don't go dark."
Moonves, who takes pride in a hands-on approach to the network (he noted that he watches every episode of "Big Brother," hosted by his wife, Julie Chen), was also asked about the negotiations to keep Cote de Pablo on "NCIS." The actress ultimately left television's most-watched scripted show.
"We offered Cote de Pablo a lot of money, and then we offered her even more money," he said. "It was purely her decision."
Fans have launched a campaign reaching out to CBS and even TV critics to keep her on the show.
Moonves also addressed NBC's late-night transition and Jay Leno consistently beating his own network's "Late Show With David Letterman" in the ratings. He said he considered Letterman the best late-night host ever, after Johnny Carson. When a reporter pressed him on Letterman's ratings, Moonves said he didn't consider him a failure in any way.
He also joked about NBC's previous, disastrous attempt to replace Leno on "The Tonight Show."
"I heard a rumor that they were going to put him on at 10 p.m.," Moonves said.
Moonves was also asked, bluntly, why the CW was still on the air given its low ratings. The CW is co-owned by CBS and Warner Bros. Entertainment. Moonves said that while the CW "may lose some money," its shows are profitable and make money for CBS and Warner Bros.
At a TCA panel Saturday, NBC entertainment president Bob Greenblatt said that being flat in the ratings was "the new up." Greenblatt also joked that broadcast television is sometimes seen as "the bastard child of the entertainment industry."
Moonves disagreed. He said the broadcast model is changing, pointing to CBS's "Under the Dome" as an example. He said the show earned 13.7 million viewers in its premiere — but more than 20 million including streaming and DVD viewing.
The networks were shut out earlier this month, for the second straight year, in the Emmys Outstanding Drama Series category.
But Moonves said it was unfair to compare a show like CBS's "The Good Wife" to HBO's "Game of Thrones" and other prestige cable shows that he estimated cost three times as much. Greenblatt made a similar point Saturday, saying cable is able to concentrate on making fewer shows.