CBS CEO Leslie Moonves wants to make one thing clear: The network didn't let NCIS' Cote de Pablo leave the show without putting up a fight.
"We offered Cote de Pablo a lot of money, and then we offered her even more money," Moonves told reporters at the Television Critics Association fall TV previews Monday. "We really didn't want to lose her. We love her; we think she was terrific. ... Ultimately she decided she didn't want to do the show."
Cote de Pablo exiting NCIS
De Pablo announced her exit earlier this month, one week before the show was scheduled to begin production on its upcoming 11th season. She expressed her gratitude to the show and its cast and crew and said she would return for a few episodes to end her character's story. But how could CBS lose the leading lady of the No. 1 show on television?
"It was purely her decision," Moonves continued. "NCIS was the highest-rated show on television last year. We don't like losing anybody, but we did everything humanly possible. We feel like we exhausted every opportunity, and she just decided she didn't want to do the show."
Some other highlights from Moonves' executive session:
Big Brother's racial controversy is "appalling": Moonves said that he believed that CBS handled the hot-button issue properly, but slammed the offending contestants' behavior. "Big Brother... was established as a social experiment," he said. "Clearly that's what's happening this year. I find some of the behavior absolutely appalling personally. I think it, unfortunately, is reflective of how certain people feel in America." Moonves, who is married to Big Brother host Julie Chen, also admitted that he is still involved in the casting process. "Obviously, you don't want wallflowers on reality shows," he said. "You take people who are interesting. Sometimes, does that lead to controversy? Absolutely."
Get more CBS news from TCAs
What happened to Shawn Ryan's Beverly Hills Cop pilot? Although many TV insiders prognosticated that the TV reboot of the beloved film franchise was a lock during pilot season, Moonves said, "We do a lot of pilots and the best get on the air. And we felt that we had better choices than that pilot."
Enter Hostages. Apparently, one of those better choices was Hostages, a serialized political assassination thriller that CBS ordered for only 15 episodes. Moonves acknowledged the network's approach to the new show is a departure, but said it is one necessitated by the changing marketplace. "When the Bruckheimer people brought us that project... we realized we needed a new model to do it," he said. "It's a new world. Every model that we're doing is somewhat different than what we were doing before. At the bottom of it all is still quality television." But Moonves doesn't view the show, or the recently renewed Under the Dome, as a limited series. "We didn't put it on just to have 15 episodes on," Moonves said. "We put it on to have multiple seasons of it. Why can't they be under the dome a long time? It's television!"
Hawaii Five-0 says aloha to its Monday timeslot. Hostages will take the Mondays-at-10 timeslot this fall, bumping Five-0 to Fridays. "Hawaii Five-0 skews a little bit older, so we figured with Blue Bloods doing extremely well, Friday night has become more of a total viewers [night] than a demo night," Moonves said. "It became pretty self-evident that would be a good move. We'll see if that was good in a few months."
CBS renews Under the Dome for Season 2
Broadcast television is not dead. Moonves pointed to the success of Under the Dome's huge summer premiere to once again champion the big-tent reach of network TV. He added that the 13.7 million viewers the show received for its premiere grew to more than 20 million when factoring in DVR, on-demand and streaming views. "That is drastically different than it ever was before," Moonves said. "When you look at the totality of it, you say, 'Numbers can be as big [as years past], they're just coming from different places. Everything is not counted yet, though Nielsen is trying to get there. The model has never been dead; it's just evolving."
Neither are soap operas. Moonves expressed no concern about the future of CBS' daytime soaps The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful. "They're doing well; they're profitable," he said. "They were able to, a few years back, do their shows a bit more economically... We believe those two soaps will be on for a long, long time. We don't believe the form is dead."
David Letterman is "the best." Moonves praised his late-night host when asked about NBC's plan to push first place late-night host Jay Leno out the door again ("I heard a rumor that they were going to put him at 10 p.m.," Moonves joked.) Moonves said of Letterman, "We love having David Letterman. He's the dean. He's the best there is. Other than Johnny Carson, he's probably the best there ever was. We like the stability." But why doesn't CBS' ruthlessness in cutting solid-performing shows in prime time bleed into late night, where Letterman has consistently been the runner-up? "I don't consider David Letterman a failure any way, shape or form," he said. "He's still making money for us and still does the best show. We're very happy to have him."
Could CBS go dark on Time Warner Cable? The network is in a carriage-fee dispute with the cable provider, and if an agreement isn't reached by 5 p.m./ET Monday, CBS could go dark in millions of homes. "I really don't want to negotiate in public," Moonves said. "Conversations are going on. It's a very difficult negotiation. We feel like we should be paid for our programming. ...I hope we don't go dark. Conversations are happening between a lot of people today."
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)