Stateside

What should be done with CBS? In the 1994/95 season, CBS has slid from first place to third; after a 22 per cent fall in ratings over the past year, CBS now trails ABC and NBC, with Rupert Murdoch's Fox bearing down fast in fourth place. Last year, CBS lost American football to Fox, and its prime-time shows look stale compared with NBC's hospital drama ER and ABC's NYPD Blue.

Of all the US television networks, CBS has the oldest audience - not the kind that pulls in the big advertising dollars. And of the three CBS shows in last year's top 20, two have been on the air for more than five years and the third was the news programme Sixty Minutes, now in its 26th year.

"CBS is being killed," says Aaron Cohens, a media buyer at New York-based Media Edge. "There are now too many networks; we have four majors and two minis. But there's a terrible shortage of good programmes. So advertisers are looking at other media."

The four major networks unveil their winter schedules next month. "CBS better have something good," says Cohens. "If not, I can see them losing another 15 per cent of their ad revenues."

So will CBS fall to a takeover? "That's all we talk about round here," says one CBS News insider. "The nightmare scenario is that Ted Turner buys us, ships all the newsroom jobs to CNN headquarters in Atlanta and cuts everybody's salary to $60,000."

This would not be difficult, given the number of Americans chasing the small pool of TV jobs. This summer, about 30,000 students will graduate from American universities with degrees in "communications". Over half will struggle to find work in the broadcast media.

"It's a crisis," says Marleen Sanders at the Columbia University School of Journalism. "We are training far too many TV journalists for the jobs available. It's sending wages, and quality, through the floor."

Sanders says the average age of newsroom staff has slipped to 28 from 34 over the past 10 years. "Too many of the profession's entrants have no experience of life," she says. "They understand soundbites but not how the Senate works."

Now Sanders is launching a course that forces students to understand the news as a condition of their degree. "It's not very popular. But maybe if they don't get media jobs, they will at least be qualified for something other than waiting tables."

Rupert Murdoch is courting the politicians. First ,there was the $4m book offer to the House Speaker, Newt Gingrich. The deal embarrassed the Republicans' Robespierre, who then backed out. Now Murdoch is offering politicians free airtime on the Fox TV network. Fox would give candidates space for commercials during elections. Murdoch told the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas that free airtime would "help get rid of some of the influence of money in politics".

This was said with a straight face. The NAB rejected the notion, but then the TV networks, which pay the NAB's bills, reap multimillion-dollar windfalls during election years, as candidates stump up for airtime. Politicians, including New York's Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, welcomed the scheme. "I think it's terrific," says Guiliani. "I spent half my campaign budget on TV ads."

Of course, there's no connection between Murdoch's offer and his current business before the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is probing Murdoch's acquisition of local TV stations for Fox. It can't hurt to be nice to the powers-that-be at a time like this.

The New York City Planning Commission says that by the year 2000, Hispanics will surpass blacks as the city's largest ethnic group. By the year 2010, they will be the largest minority group in the country. That's good news for El Diario, the fastest-growing daily newspaper in New York. Backed by Time Warner, El Diario aims to launch a 24-hour Spanish language news network on New York cable television. Called Vea New York, the network will capitalise on the growing demand from advertisers for new ways to reach the huge Hispanic market.

This is not the only ethnic market that's growing. The New York borough of Queens is home to many West Indians. Now, New Yorkers who tune in to the local radio station WLIB will receive cricket commentary from Barbados. "I doubt that most New Yorkers will understand," says Mark Riley, the WLIB programme director. "But we've sold every second of advertising space. In the summer there's more cricket in Flushing Meadows than baseball."

Fans of ER and Quentin Tarantino rejoice. Tarantino has just finished directing an episode of the hospital drama, which will be aired on NBC next month. It includes the "significant departure" of a cast member. The job will have been a welcome break for Tarantino. He was recently overheard saying he was so "sick" of Pulp Fiction he never wanted to hear the movie mentioned again.

CBS, ABC and NBC threw all their resources at the Oklahoma City bombing and prevented a mass defection of viewers to CNN. But America's Middle Eastern community wish they hadn't bothered. All the networks, with the exception of ABC, suggested that "Arab extremists" were responsible. In the hours after the bombing, Arab organisations throughout the country received death threats. One man whose parents came to the US from Jordan 42 years ago said he no longer felt safe after watching one edition of NBC's Nightly News. Rupert Murdoch's New York Post was also guilty. Its cartoon two days after the bombing featured ayatollah lookalikes burning the Stars and Stripes in front of the Statue of Liberty ...

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